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Format: Novel
Chapters: 33
Word Count: 130,648
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Mystery, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Lupin, Slughorn, Snape, Kreacher, Molly, Narcissa, Umbridge
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Remus/Tonks, Ron/Hermione, Snape/Lily, Snape/Narcissa

First Published: 05/27/2007
Last Chapter: 10/12/2010
Last Updated: 08/21/2013


2008 Dobby:  Best Trio fic / Finalist: Best Action/Adventure

Thanks to Alora for a great banner, and to Seanos and Indie for their beta work.

Draco is in hiding in an unlikely place, Snape has a theory about "Muggle magic'. The hunt for the Horcruxes commences... Allegiances change. Harry retrieves one of his own earliest memories with devastating consequences.  A price has to be paid and a high one at that.

Chapter 1: Sanctuary
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Thank you so much to Marauder By Night for the wonderful chapter image and extra special thanks for ensuring that the text in the letter pictured is the same af the one in the letter featured in the chapter..

Several days had passed since he first arrived there. How many, he couldn't quite recall. The place felt calm, yet damp, dark and far removed from any familiarity. A speckle of light struggled to filter through the stained-glass windows. What in Merlin's beard was he doing in that building? In a Muggle church, of all places!

Snape had mentioned something which had sounded to him like a message in code. He had explained, in a dispassionate, matter of fact, teaching style, that in the middle ages, Muggles who were, or were perceived by the authorities as wrong-doers could escape harm for up to forty days by entering a holy place. After that, they would have to either give themselves up or "abjure the realm"; in essence, make an oath to leave the country at the earliest opportunity and under certain conditions. But what did this mean for him, in the here and now?

Severus was a half-blood, after all. Did he know something a pure blood like himself did not? Did religious Muggles have a limited amount of magical ability? Did Muggles who were not really Muggles choose religion as a way to practice their magic without even knowing what they were? Maybe, just maybe, they could cast spells to protect sacred buildings. Maybe, just maybe Voldemort, in his abhorrence of all things Muggle, had overlooked this. Maybe, just maybe, Severus Snape knew it.

How long did he have to stay there? How long before the protection ceased? He could not live as a Muggle; he could not do it, could not accept it, not even for his own safety! Or could he? He did not know who he was any more. Dumbledore had offered to protect him. Come to the right side, Draco, we can hide more completely than you can ever imagine. Of the fact that he was hiding, there was no doubt. He had been a coward, or perhaps, Dumbledore had been right again, and he simply was not a murderer. Would Voldemort ever forgive the Professor for his interference? Perhaps Snape was already dead. Nothing was certain, nothing could be guessed. Maybe that was why no sign had come, why he was still there, waiting. He had failed the Dark Lord and, undoubtedly, a price had to be paid. But by whom and how soon?

What had become of his mother? Was his father truly safe in Azkaban? He knew full well that no communication with the outside world was possible. He would just have to wait, alone and desolated.

Was it possible to do magic in that place? He was cold, hungry and scared. He could just simply conjure up a small fire. Should someone discover him, he could always cast a memory charm on them. It was worth a try. 

No spell can bring back the dead; I thought you knew that, Harry. 
Those words resonated in Harry's mind time and time again. He was on his own. He had been losing, one by one, most of his protectors. The protection placed on 4 Privet Drive would be gone on the night of his 17th birthday. Would his relatives be at risk? Not that he had ever cared much for them. They had treated him with worse than contempt, often with cruelty. Ron and Hermione had insisted on coming with him but he knew that would had only made matters worse. Soon, it would all be over, he would leave them for good, and then, he would have to face something no one would ever be ready for. The task was insurmountable. He would now try to sleep, even though it was only early evening; try to sleep and to forget about Horcruxes and about Ginny, amongst other things.

"Harry, Harry!" shouted a voice from downstairs.

No doubt, some burdensome chore awaited him. Harry attempted to tidy up his hair a little, rather unsuccessfully, and slowly and unenthusiastically got up.

"Harry!" There was a knock at his bedroom door. "Harry, dinner is ready," said his aunt Petunia in a strangely impatient tone.

Although he was somewhat hungry, he had no desire to sit with the Dursleys for however long it took to eat dinner. Then again, he was too tired and too preoccupied to argue, to dismiss the invitation. He dragged himself down the stairs and was surprised to find his aunt on her own. Apparently, Dudley and Uncle Vernon had gone out, though she didn't say where.

"Harry, I would like to have a little talk," she said in very low voice, which seemed to convey a mixture of embarrassment and complicity.

Harry was certain that some unpleasantness was brewing. "What about?" he replied half curious, half suspicious.

She sat at the kitchen table and made a motion for Harry to do the same. "You are leaving us soon, is that right?" started Mrs Dursley, keeping her gaze down, playing with the rings on her fingers.

"That's right. I'm only here because Professor Dumbledore asked me to stay until I come of age. After my birthday, you will be rid of me forever. That has always been clear." Harry said proudly, almost as if trying to prove to her and to himself that he was now an adult. An adult capable of fighting his own corner, an adult who didn't need their charity anymore.

"And then what?" There was a twinge of worry in her voice.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you know, the protection. Will we be in danger?" Petunia's eyes narrowed; she was sitting tight.

"That, I honestly don't know."

"But what about the old man? Can he not put some other protection in place for us? After all, we have given you a home all these years.  We have fed you and clothed you..." she went on, carried away with her account of her own generosity.

Harry could not stand hearing Petunia talk about his mentor. He had not wished to let them know of his death as he believed that fear of him was the only reason why they were being remotely civilised. But, partly out of impulse and partly out of remembering what Dumbledore had once said about doing what is right and not what is easy, he spat out, "The old man is dead."

"Dead?" An expression of true dread took over Petunia's face. "Was it ...was he, the one who ... my sister?"

"No. It was one of his minions, if you must know. No-one can protect any of us anymore." 

"This will just not do" shouted Petunia on the verge of tears. "I knew it was a mistake, taking you in. None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for my foolish sister and for you, YOU!"

"My world would have existed even if you haven't heard of it, I can assure you," Harry replied, trying to remain composed.

"Yes, but we wouldn't have been targets!"

"You will not be targets after I am gone. I will make sure Voldemort gets wind of the fact that I don't live here anymore. But if you are so worried, you can try helping me."

"Helping you? How? To do what?" she asked, looking flabbergasted.

"You could begin by telling me where my mother lived before she died, her actual address in Godric’s Hollow," he said with a sense of opportunity.

"I don't know that. I lost touch with her, after..., umn..., after I married your uncle," she explained almost apologetically.

Harry thought she was lying. It was pure guesswork but he thought that, if he was right, he might make her believe that he could read her mind. "You are lying. You were in touch, but you didn't want Uncle Vernon to know. Isn't that right?" he looked straight into her eyes, with assertion, with conviction.

"How do you know?"

"I have my ways," he replied with a knowing smile.

"Why do you want to know anyway?" asked Mrs Dursley as if she was missing part of the plot.

"For starters, so that I may visit my parents' graves. You owe me that much, after you let me believe for about ten years that they'd died in a car crash! It was bad enough to be unloved, to have no parents, but not knowing anything about them was the worst," ranted Harry, unable to bottle up any longer the resentment he still felt about the Dursleys having kept him so completely in the dark.

"You must understand. What was I to say? And to a child! I didn't even know myself, exactly, how your parents died. You must understand!" Petunia was now almost pleading for forgiveness, whether sincerely or not, Harry couldn't quite decide.

Harry remained silent for a moment and then he added, "There is more, though. You are afraid, you want protection. Well, you know why I am famous in my world, don't you? Because Voldemort used the same curse on me as on my parents but I didn't die, instead he lost his powers. My mother, your sister, made it happen. If I can find the exact spell she used, I might have a slight chance of doing it again. I need to find her wand. If you want to be safe, I have to defeat him and for that, I think I need her wand."

"But you won't, I mean, not that I ever went there but, I believe the house was destroyed," she argued.

"I believe that too. But I have to give it a go. If you tell me what I ask you, I won't bother you ever again. Also, despite the way you have treated me, I will try to keep you all safe, if I can at all, I promise!" Harry vowed.

"Very well." She suddenly rose from her chair and went upstairs. A few minutes later, she came back holding an envelope in her hands quite tightly. He nearly froze. For the first time in his life, he saw his mother's hand-writing.

"May I?" Harry was curious and excited. This was the closest he had ever been to his mother's thoughts. He was almost shaking, but tried to conceal the fact. He had never felt particularly close to his aunt and, even if she was his mother's sister, he felt that his grief ought to be something private. Not that he saw being emotional particularly as a weakness, but he certainly wasn't about to cry his eyes out in front of her.

She looked at him but rapidly looked away. She passed on the letter and Harry, for a moment, felt as if she was squeezing his hand, as if she was trying to give him strength.

Dear Petunia,

I am writing to you because it pains me that you don't regard me as a sister anymore. We belong to different worlds but not separate ones, just different. I would also like to let you know that we are well for the moment, but in danger, through no fault of our own. Something evil has taken over our world and we just cannot let it happen. I trust that you will not reveal this address to anyone although, I am sure you won't; not even to your husband. Not that this would matter anyway, as I doubt that either of you knows anyone in our world that can do us harm. Should anything happen to me, to James, or to both, you needn't worry about my son. We have friends who would gladly take care of him, although, I sincerely hope it will not come to that. I hope you will remember our life as sisters before I went to Hogwarts and also remember that our parents loved us "both". I hope that you and your family are well and that you will write sometime.



At the bottom of the letter was the address of a place in Wales. His mother's family had come from Wales, after all, Harry recalled. He thought it was likely to be a Muggle village. Harry buried his head in his hands for a moment. That had been a very emotional moment indeed. He swallowed hard and tried to contain his tears. A multitude of emotions, rage, sadness, love and despair collided in his mind.

"I am sorry," said Petunia, sounding actually genuine.

"You didn't kill her," Harry said coldly. "But I guess you didn't reply either," he added, wondering whether Petunia ever felt sad about her sister's death, whether she ever regretted their estrangement.

"It is a long story that happened a very long time ago. What good would regrets do now?" 

Harry remained still, contemplating the ceiling as if something extremely interesting was written on it.

"I must admit, I never wanted you. I had my own family and you were forced upon me. You were a reminder of a sister who was bright and pretty, always the favourite. Your uncle had given me security and respectability. And then, you came into our lives and threatened all of that, well… the respectability at least!" she cried.

"I can't say that I love you either but I wish you no ill. I will do what I can to keep you safe but I would be grateful for a bit of help," stated Harry looking straight into his aunt's eyes whilst trying to keep at bay the involuntary tears that were beginning to form in his.

"A bit of help? How?" her voice sounded now rather panicky.

"By telling me about my family, about my mother, my grandparents, the usual stuff." He paused and looked at the kitchen clock. "How long are Uncle Vernon and Dudley out for?"

"I don't know exactly but they will not be back for a while yet," she said with a slight twinkle.

"You staged this, didn't you?" Harry also smiled.

"Yes," she admitted very timidly, looking down.


"Because you have lived in my house all these years and I don't know you and because I am afraid of what might happen when you are gone." 

"Does that mean that you wish to continue in touch with me after I am gone?"

"I will consider it," she replied in a whisper, staring at a salad bowl on the centre of the table, not wishing to make too much eye contact.

"Nothing personal, but I think it is better if we don't. You would be at risk if we do."

"But you said you want my help..."

"Only if you want to give it."

"What do you want to know?" 


Chapter 2: Truce
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The night was hot and sticky as if awaiting a storm. In a small town on the south coast, most inhabitants of a street composed mainly of Victorian terraced houses had sensed this and gone indoors. Inside the farthest one, the one with its facade covered in ivy, Horace Slughorn was sitting on a large and cushioned velvet armchair, his stomach rumbling. In the adjacent dining-room, the table had been set ready for a king; goblin made cutlery, vintage wine and exquisite delicacies. If he was going to depart this world soon, he might as well do it in style. That had been his motto since well before Dumbledore had died.

Before he had time to react, a loud popping sound wiped away his smile. Someone had just Apparated in the middle of his living-room.

"Severus!" exclaimed Slughorn peering, horror-stricken, at the black-cloaked figure that had abruptly broken the peace of his surroundings.


"What are you doing here?" Slughorn asked in a harsh tone, as he attempted with some difficulty to get up.

"I am here to warn you," Severus answered impassively, standing still on the spot to which he had Apparated.

"To warn me?" repeated Slughorn with a hint of sarcasm, trying to cover up his feeling of unease.

"Yes, to warn you. I know who told Potter about the Horcruxes. The game is up. The Headmaster cannot protect you anymore!"

The former potions teacher could not believe his ears. "You what?"

"You could be in very serious trouble," Snape stated, pacing up and down the room as if familiarising himself with an enemy camp.

How dare he act so arrogantly, after what he had done! Slughorn thought.

"That certainly is a grand statement coming from you. The man who has just murdered the most respected wizard in the entire world. Someone who will surely end up either in Azkaban or dead at the hands of the Dark Lord, whatever or whoever gets you first!"

"Very ingenious, Horace. I killed Dumbledore to save the Malfoy brat!" replied Snape dispassionately, standing right opposite from his contender, towering over him.

"Why, because you are in love with Narcissa, like you were with Lily?" the older man remarked defiantly.

"Clean your filthy mouth, before I shut it for you forever, or even better, before I turn you in ... to the Dark Lord..."

"I daresay, he is not too pleased with you. You messed up his little plan." 

"The Dark Lord will be a good deal more pleased after I convey to him intelligence about what we both know you said, and to whom," Snape pronounced this last phrase very slowly, as if rejoicing in the words. "It may improve his mood to have another target to go after... It would certainly improve mine. It has never been my desire to be the centre of his attention."

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

Snape caressed the tip of his wand as he maintained eye contact and spoke in a superior voice, "Horace, give up the theatre, I can read your mind if I so wish. Just like I can read Potter's when he is in my presence. It's ironic. Dumbledore made it far too easy ... handed the brat over to me on a plate!"

"What do you want from me? I am only an old man. I have taken no sides in this war. You well know that."

"In time, my friend, in time. I take it you are still well connected?" asked Severus, looking at his surroundings with what would appear to be mild amusement.

"I would like to think so. Ok, let’s be gentlemen. Care for a glass?" Slughorn offered, carefully pouring wine in an elegant crystal receptacle and extending his hand to invite his guest to sit.

"I rather keep my wits about me.   After all, too much wine and too much greed in a hut on Hogwarts’ grounds was the beginning of your downfall. Is that not true?" Snape's eyes glared at him with penetrating intensity. Slughorn had to withdraw his gaze. "Trust a talentless brat to outwit you!"

Slughorn huffed before biting out, "Severus, you clearly want a favour, so, please, must you be so rude?"

"I have never been one for niceties. You have known me a long time," Snape replied sternly.

"Yes, but not long enough to suspect you would become a murderer."

"I had my reasons. You obviously know nothing," he replied condescendingly.

"Look, I could alert the Order." 

"No one in the Order trusts you, like they did me. You sit on the fence too much. Neither side trusts you as a result." 

Slughorn could feel his hackles start to rise. "I see you have come alone. How brave of you!"

"It is not me who is a coward, despite what you might have heard." 

The former professor had to admit to himself that he was deeply curious about what really happened at the Astronomy Tower. He had a feeling there was more to it than met the eye. Also, he was dying to know how Snape had avoided both Azkaban and Voldemort's fury, so far.

"Ok, stop the game! How well connected are you really, in the Muggle community?" Snape questioned, not willing to beat about the bush any longer.

"In the Muggle community?" Slughorn seemed truly surprised. "You are not thinking of ... living as a Muggle?"

"Of course not, but there is something I wish to know." Again, Severus' gaze was impossible, almost painful.

Slughorn sighed in defeat. "Ask away."

"Do you know any priests, Muggle priests?"

"Priests? Whatever is, in Merlin's beard, that you have in mind?"

"Do you or do you not?" asked Snape, eager to get the conversation moving.

"I can't think, off hand..." Slughorn hesitated, his fear beginning to show.

"I want to know whether you know anything about what they call miracles, in other words their magic. Is there, in your experience, "he pronounced the word experience slowly and rhythmically, "any truth in any of that? Can they prevent evil entering a place?"

"You better ask a Muggle," he replied as he nearly choked on a great sip of wine.

"A proper Muggle would either go by faith, believing anything without a hint of proof, or by science, doing the absolute opposite. Again, a Muggle-born, would see everything as just our magic. None of it is of any use."

"Let’s get this straight. Are you trying to keep You-Know-Who at bay by means of Muggle magic? Let’s think... this could actually prove rather clever. Of course, he will not think of that, will he? Unless he reads your mind. I believe him to be a highly accomplished Legilimens. After all, I was his teacher at Hogwarts," Horace added with a hint of self-satisfaction.

"You are learning. But it is not myself I am trying to protect, not yet anyway," replied Snape dismissing the comment about Voldemort reading his mind.

"Whose side are you truly on, Severus?"

"If I knew that, I wouldn’t tell you. Maybe like you, on the side of the winner. But that’s not really my style!" Snape snapped disdainfully.

"Now, tell me," Slughorn had continued drinking and his curiosity was taking its toll, "did you make a Horcrux yourself with Dumbledore’s death?"

"Don’t be ridiculous! I can see that your bravery is no more than drink talking. You are a little pathetic, fat, drunken old man, and a coward to boot!"

"I said, enough of insults. I have done you no harm. You have invaded my home, you have threatened me!" protested Slughorn.

"All I want is information. I have given you a task. I trust you will come up with something, with a brilliance like yours!" 

"Ok, there is bound to be something in it..." Horace Slughorn muttered.

"Don’t mess around. We haven’t the time. Someone is going to die if you do not find out soon. I thought I’d give my old teacher a little homework for a change."

On that note, Snape Disapparated from Slughorn’s place into the shadows of the stormy night.


After the encounter, Horace Slughorn had lost his appetite for both the food and the expensive wine. Where was his fan club now? He had spent most of his lifetime recruiting acquaintances amongst the rich, the famous and the talented but now, in his hour of need, he didn’t have a single friend he could confide in. Snape had been right; he was a pathetic fat, drunken old man and also a coward. Yes, he had to admit, like the Death Eaters, he really feared death.


A few days had gone by and Harry was still living in awe about his conversation with his aunt or, more to the point, her conversation with him.

Things at home had continued as usual. There was an unspoken pact that she would continue being mean to him when there was an audience. However, he knew they had now, just as he was about to leave for good, reached an understanding for the first time ever. Maybe there was something in that blood business. After all, she was his mother's sister.

He was sitting on his bed going over these developments and various other things connected with the year ahead. Was he really not going to return to Hogwarts even if it re-opened or, was this just a protest brought about because of Dumbledore’s death? He missed his friends and above all, he missed Ginny. He would have to face her soon enough, anyway, when he returned to the Burrow for the wedding.

Suddenly, there was a tap on his window. Harry got quickly to his feet and, impatiently, let the owl in. "Hedwig! You're back," said Harry with a smile. He had sent her away earlier in the week with a letter for Ron in which, incidentally, he had omitted any mention of his younger sister. That must be his reply, although thinking about it, Ron had never been very good at writing prompt responses.

It is from Hermione, nice! Harry thought.

Dear Harry,

I hope your relatives are treating you ok. Anyway, as you know you won’t have to be there for long anyway. There is something, however, which had I not been there with my mother, I would have thought I had dreamt. I don’t yet know what it means but, if Sirius was still with us, I would have thought it proper to mention it to him. Sorry to mention Sirius; we all miss him.

Well, I will now tell you what I have been dying to say, and believe me, I am speechless.  As you well know, although my parents accept my world and our part in it, they belong to the Muggle one. My mother can be quite spiritual in her own Muggle way and likes to go to church and sometimes I go with her.. Anyway as I was saying, I was in church with my mother a few days ago, in our local chapel, quite a nice building from an architectural point of view. You should read about Muggle architecture sometime. Maybe I'll lend you a book. Anyway, getting back on topic. I was at our local chapel with my mum and who do I see? Honestly, Harry, take a seat and listen to this: 

"Come on, Hermione, get on with it," muttered Harry almost aloud. There is a time and a place for Muggle architecture! he thought.

Professor Slughorn! True to life! What on earth was he doing in a Muggle church, I wonder? I thought my vision might be blurred but my mother herself recognised him. I thought to myself that maybe he is Muggleborn or something. What was even stranger was that he seemed not to wish to see us. My mother went to say hello and I came under the distinct impression that he was trying to put a charm on us or something of that ilk. However, for whatever reason he didn't or it didn’t work. I don’t really know whether we should tell someone. I have a gut feeling that this means something, but no idea what. After all, he might be so afraid of You-Know-Who that he has turned to Muggle religion. Not necessarily a bad thing though. Please, reply soon and give me your thoughts.

By the way, by the time you get to the Burrow, I will probably be there myself. My parents are ever so pleased to have been invited to the wedding. It's so kind of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, don't you think?



P.S. I have written to you and not to Ron because I know Privet Drive is protected and it is less likely that the post may be intercepted than at the Burrow. See you soon. 

Slughorn indeed! Had the world gone truly mad? Worthy of the Daily Prophet. Rita Skeeter would love that! First Aunt Petunia being nice and now this! Maybe Voldemort will ask me to accompany him for a friendly drink at the Leaky Cauldron in a day or two! Harry laughed at his own silly thought.

Now, thinking about it, Slughorn was a strange character. He could be quite pivotal insofar as he knew about the Horcruxes and about Voldemort''s interest in creating several. He could have been a source of information had Harry not promised Dumbledore not to discuss the topic with anyone other than Ron and Hermione. Furthermore, Slughorn was a Slytherin, but that wasn't the sole reason why Harry had never trusted him completely. There was something dodgy about him. He had tried, at all costs, to stay away from the families of known Death Eaters by such deeds as refusing Malfoy an invitation to his private parties. He clearly did not want to make a stand in this war. He had confessed only because he was drunk and greedy and because he, Harry, had been helped by the Felix Felicis. Maybe he could ask Lupin, in a roundabout way. Maybe he could ask him if it was normal for a wizard to go to a Muggle church. Again, he might be cast as insane just as he had been on so many occasions. Better discuss it with Hermione first. Ron probably wouldn’t have a clue, since he doubted he even knew what a Muggle church looked like. Anyhow, he could not reply to Hermione yet because he truly did not have the slightest idea as to what to say.

Harry wasn't in the right mood to occupy his mind with any more conundrums right that minute. He put the letter in his trunk and picked up a book on Quidditch.

Chapter 3: At the Burrow
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Thanks so much to ChiQs09 for the fantastic image.

With one thing and another, Harry had almost forgotten. Well, he hadn't forgotten about the wedding . What he had forgotten was the date. First Saturday in July, of course! He had been so immersed in the task ahead, thinking of Dumbledore, trying to keep Ginny out of his mind, trying to figure out who RAB may or may had been that, as the Headmaster had warned him once, he had forgotten himself, he had forgotten to live.

'Come on, mate, the wedding is on Saturday!  We are coming to get you on Thursday night!' Ron had announced by owl.

But that's tonight!  Harry realised. He couldn't even ask Aunt Petunia to intercede as she had been busying herself with preparations for a dinner party she was holding for Uncle Vernon's business associates.

Once again, he thought of the wedding preparations, of Fleur's and Mrs Weasley's fuss and of Ginny's likely comments. Ginny, Ginny, once again... He couldn't be with her and he couldn't be without her. What if someone else asked her out? What then? But then again, what if she ended up dead because of him? Also, what could he offer her? He was likely to die in the end. Not even Dumbledore had been able to defeat Voldemort.

He had survived when he was an infant, that was true, but he had never understood exactly why. Yeah, something to do with love, his mother's love, but how, how did that work exactly? It was all too vague and Albus Dumbledore wasn't there any longer to explain in more detail. He wished he had asked when he had had the chance. He didn't want to die, but he did not want to become a Death Eater either. Voldemort had offered him that possibility once as well. But why? Why had he wanted him to join his side? Did he believe him dangerous? After all, Voldermort knew half of the prophecy.

But, before he died, he had to spend the night with Ginny, caress her locks, her body, look into her eyes, make her his... Maybe he wanted to have children, one day. But would he want his children to grow up without a father, like he had done? But Ginny would survive, he was sure. She was tough. 

Enough of that, Harry! he said to himself. You are not even bloody seventeen yet! What are you doing thinking about kids, about death? Enough.  But Ginny was a comfort; he could bury his head into her bosom, surrounded by a mane of red, fiery hair, and be at peace, but this was selfish, very selfish...

Practicalities could not be ignored any longer. He had to let the Dursleys know that he was leaving for a few days but that he would briefly return, until his birthday at the end of the month. And what about the protection? Well, in truth, it was just the same as when he was at Hogwarts. The only thing stipulated was that he must treat his relatives' house as his home, not that he had to be there 24 / 7, chained to the kitchen sink.  Yes, he could leave for the wedding and he would do so.  But, and there was a but, what reception would he get from, say, Molly Weasley, now that he had broken her precious daughter's heart?

Again, that would have to wait. The Dursleys had to be told about this wedding. He walked downstairs feeling a bit uneasy. His uncle and Dudley were watching some sport on TV. Their team wasn't doing well. That wasn't a good omen. 

"Uncle Vernon?" started Harry, standing between the sofa and the large television set trying to grab Mr Dursley's attention.

"Don't bother me now," replied Vernon moving his arm, motioning Harry to get out of his field of vision.

"I need to ask you something," Harry pressed on.

"What is it? Be quick," commanded his uncle, not wishing to give whatever the matter was any more time than was strictly necessary.

"I have been invited to a wedding, only I almost forgot." 

"You forgot? How convenient. With those freaks, is it?" Mr. Dursley mocked, frowning in disgust.

"Yes. My friend Ron's brother, he is getting married. They are coming here to get me, but, don't worry, they won't try to come through the fireplace this time," added Harry, repressing a giggle.

"They better bloody not!"  Vernon was now getting agitated.

As they spoke, there was a knock at the door. The Andersons were early, unfashionably so! Dinner wasn't quite ready yet, Petunia thought annoyed, quickly sticking in the oven a pie she was making. "Dudley, be a darling and open the door to our guests, please." 

Harry's cousin obeyed.

Fleur Delacour led the group. Dudley nearly fainted. He could not keep his pokey eyes off her. She was stunningly beautiful, unnaturally so. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks followed her. Dudley looked at them from a distance and decided to find something to do in his room. 

Aunt Petunia prayed with all her might that the Andersons' car broke down. They just couldn't arrive when these freaks were still there. She had just spotted that awful creature with the spiky short pink hair again. She was trying to get on with Harry these days, but this was just too much.

"Good evening," said Mr. Weasley in a calm, polite way, stepping in from behind Kingsley and Tonks to speak to the Dursleys.

"What are you doing in my house?" Mr. Dursley almost yelled before he realised that the black man in front of him looked familiar. Surely, it couldn't be. For a moment he thought he had seen him on TV, with the Prime Minister, of all people!

"Don't worry, we are not staying. Our eldest son is getting married to this young lady here," he said pointing towards Fleur. Even Uncle Vernon couldn't resist her charms. He stared at her in a peeping-tom kind of manner.

"I'm ze bride to be - would you care to join us for ze day?" offered Fleur politely.

"We, we, my wife and I are otherwise engaged, Miss," replied Vernon Dursley fighting all his instincts.

"Ok, I take that's settled," finalised Tonks. "We'll take Harry to France. We promise to bring him back in one piece. Not that you care, you lot!" she added disapprovingly.

"Don't you dare talk to me like that!" protested Mr. Dursley.

"Sorry, Tonks," said Harry in a whisper. "There is lots I have to tell you. Let them be, I have just about packed my trunk. Let's go."


Since the Durselys hadn't provided any refreshment for the motley crew of witches and wizards, they had a spot of tea at Ms. Figg's house. From there they  Apparated to the Burrow, with Harry side-along Apparating with Arthur since he hadn't taken his test yet. 

Molly rushed to greet everybody. "Harry, how have you been?" she asked as she cuddled him tightly.

It was comforting to know that she wasn't mad at him. But, where is Ginny? he thought.
"Ginny, Ginny!" shouted Molly from the bottom of the stairs as if reading Harry's mind. "Harry is here! Come and say hello."

Maybe she didn't know. Maybe Ginny hadn't said. Hermione and the twins came to the kitchen and greeted Harry cheerfully. His now ex-girlfriend eventually stepped in and said hello in the same tone of voice she would have used if she was very bored, or if she was forced to salute someone. 

"How are things, Ginny?" asked Harry trying to sound casual, trying to keep his nervousness at bay. 

"Great, just great," she replied with a very false smile.

"I think our little sister could do with a love potion, don't you?" whispered Fred into George's ear.

"That can be arranged," George whispered back, but he instantly knew Harry had overheard him as he had gone very red.

Ginny, suddenly, decided to go into the garden with  feeble excuse.  Molly Weasley embraced him again and, ensuring that Harry didn't notice, made a motion to the twins and Hermione for them to leave the kitchen. "You are wasting away, dear boy. Those Muggles don't feed you properly. Don't be afraid of me, Harry. I am still the same. I know about you and Ginny," she said very quietly.

Harry did not feel at all in the mood for that kind of conversation. "Mrs, urm, Molly," he started, not knowing what to call her anymore "I, I ... never wanted to hurt her but, she is in danger with me," he almost pleaded.

"We are all in danger, dear. Look at the clock," she said, as she stared the timepiece that showed where everyone in the family was and which had pointed towards mortal peril for quite some time.

"Yes, but her more so, if she is with me," he replied stubbornly.

"Oh, you are too young for that kind of thing anyway. Also, we need to talk to you. I know it is going to be painful, Harry. Poor thing, you've lost so many people. But you've always known that you are like one of my own. I wish we could have taken you in instead of those Muggles, but Dumbledore had his reasons, of course..." digressed Mrs. Weasley.

"Yes, Molly, he did."

"You are far too young for all this. I know the rumours about the prophecy but it doesn't make sense. The Ministry should be protecting us from You-Know-Who, not a 16 year old boy.  Harry, I lost two brothers in the last war. We lost so many, the Longbottoms, your parents ... It doesn't bear thinking about. I can't bear to lose any of you," she said on the brink of tears.

"Molly, what Voldermort wants is me. I would give myself up to him if I knew by doing that you'd all be safe, but someone has to finish him off and it seems that it has to be me. I don't understand it either."  There was no point in continuing with the secrecy about the prophecy where Molly was concerned.  After all,  the Daily Prophet had put that thought into everyone's mind anyway.   Harry's sadness was evident in his eyes.

"Professor McGonagall says you won't tell anyone what you and Dumbledore were up to... that night," she continued.

"I promised him. I can't." 

"Damn you, Albus! I never thought I would say that”, Molly muttered recoiling at the sound of her own words. "Why couldn't he see that the Order can help you? We are more prepared, we have more experience and there are more of us. Even he made mistakes, Harry."

"Yeah, one cost him his life!" 

"But I don't want another one to take yours," Mrs. Wealey's eyes were now clearly wet.

"It's likely to happen anyway. Look, that's why I finished with Ginny. Even if she survives, I am likely to end up dead."

"But you can't fight him just yet," Molly said in an overprotective tone. "You need to learn more and for that, my boy, all of you must return to Hogwarts. I overheard Fred and George talking some nonsense about the three of you not going back to school," she disclosed willing him to give her further information.

"Molly, I can't tell you why but, you are right, I cannot fight him just yet. That would be nearly useless, but it is not really a matter of being more prepared. He will always be more skilled than me. Dumbledore said something about me having power Voldemort doesn't and that it has something to do with being able to love." 

"That's why he thought you didn't die, because of your mother's love, dear," she replied wishing she hadn't had to remind him about his mother's death.

"How does it work, Molly? I mean, how exactly, from a practical point of view.  Can I use it as a weapon?" he asked impatiently.

"I believe it's very ancient magic but I don't know the ins and outs. Did Dumbledore not explain more?"

Harry lowered his head and replied rather crestfallen, "No, I'm afraid not."

Remus walked in the kitchen just then to fetch a glass of water and heard Molly talking with Harry on the very subject the Order had some serious concerns with.

"There seem to be lots of loose ends, Harry," commented Lupin, joining them at the table. "We all think you need to confide on us. Minerva is beside herself with worry. Albus isn't here to protect you anymore. Whatever is that you both were attempting, you can't do it alone. You are only a kid, for goodness sake!"

"I will be of age fairly shortly," snapped Harry.

"Your parents were of age, Sirius was of age, Dumbledore was of age!" came Remus' harsh reply.

"But I made him a promise, a solemn promise that I wouldn't tell."

"You may be endangering people by keeping it a secret now that he is no longer with us. Can't you see that? Do you think that's what he would have wanted?" Lupin tried to persuade him.

"I don't know, Professor, umm, Remus. I have just had an idea though."

"Yes, Harry," said Lupin suddenly hopeful.

"If I could talk to his portrait ... maybe I could ask him..."

"Harry, his portrait is not meant to be something like the owl post. You cannot just talk to him as if he were still alive. It doesn't work like that."

"Yeah, but I have heard the other portraits making comments from time to time," Harry retorted with what he saw as logic.

"But you cannot just contact the dead at will. I have no doubt that if this were possible, you would have talked to your parents and to Sirius by now. It is not like a Muggle telephone." Harry sensed that Lupin felt sad about having to burst the bubble but realised that Remus felt it was necessary to impress that idea onto him.

"I guess you are right. But, what if I used the Mirror of Erised and what I most wished for was talking with Dumbledore?"

"Again, Harry, that mirror doesn't show you the truth. Merely what you most want to see."

Harry felt defeated.

"You will have to make a decision as to whether you think confiding on anyone is wise or not, given the circumstances," summarised Lupin.

"He has to trust us, Remus," Molly interrupted.

"He has to decide that for himself," concluded Remus as he left the room.

This didn't make Harry feel any better.


"Ginny, you can't ignore him forever. You're going to have to decide what you are going to do. I know you want him back and I think he misses you too. He is frightened for you, that's all," Hermione tried to explain later that day, sitting on Ginny's bed. She had found Ginny in the garden and feeling that her friend needed comforting, she led her upstairs for a chat. The two girls had been at it for quite a while already, the subject always centred around Harry.

"He is always going to be like that, isn't he? Harry Potter, the noble hero! And to hell with the rest of us! At least he is letting you go with him, isn't he? He has confided in you two. I well know that!" It was hard to tell whether Ginny was starting to cry out of sadness or out of pure anger.

"Ginny, he trusts you too, I know. It is all very difficult for him at the moment," Hermione tried to justify, giving her a hug.

"It's also difficult for the rest of us. Just because everybody has always felt sorry for him!  The golden orphan!"

"Ginny!" reprimanded Hermione.

"I don't know how I feel anymore. I love him and I hate him. I could kill him!"

"Well, no need for that, sis, he is convinced You-Know-Who will do that job for you anyway!" Ron mocked, opening the door and stepping into the room, causing the two girls almost to jump out of their skins.

"Get out of my room, Ron! Have you come here spying for your mate?"

Ron turned red. The girls suspected that he had in fact been listening to their conversation from outside the door. "Piss off, Ginny. Hermione is right, make up your mind!  Do you want him back or do you not?" 

"Get out of here, Ron, now!" yelled Ginny. Since they weren't likely to talk anymore in front of him, Ron had no choice but to leave them alone.

"It is not just about his parents being dead, and Sirius and ... well, Dumbledore," continued Hermione, "it is about the prophecy and how he feels he is destined to fulfil it. I wouldn't want to swap places. It's a huge responsibility."

"No, I guess I wouldn't want that either. But I am brave, I am prepared to fight. He just doesn't see me as an equal, like he sees you two. Does he?" Ginny shouted frustrated.

"I don't know what to say, Gin. I think it might be a good idea if you talked to him directly."

I think he misses you too Hermione had said. Maybe he still has feelings for me, Ginny thought.  This brought an involuntary smile to her face.

Chapter 4: Confession
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Thanks so much to Marauder By Night for the great chapter image

Father McKenna was about to retire to his accommodation when he was struck by a sudden urge to check up on the Old Chapel of Saint Mary and the Apostles. Although this would add fifteen minutes or so to his journey, it had been awhile since he had been to the building.  It was only prudent to ensure that everything was ok.

Draco had finally, after trying with all his might, managed to conjure a little fire. Although it was the height of summer, the place felt cold, cold as the stones themselves. In answer to his earlier question, yes, magic did work in a sacred Muggle place, but only when the caster truly needed it and, he guessed, never when intended for dark purposes. This was an educated guess, given the time and effort it had taken him to perform a simple spell. If he was right, that in itself would be a relief despite it also being an annoyance.

The priest looked at the chapel and shook his head. It was a shame really, he thought, such a beautiful late Gothic building, now semi-derelict, its garden overgrown enough to resemble a jungle! There were no funds available in the Parish for repairing such places. Maybe he should start up a collection, although he suspected that the only parishioners able to make a donation were probably more interested in flogging the building off to a property developer to have it converted into a residential dwelling.

As the priest reached the gate, he thought for a moment that he could see light coming from inside. That could not be. Visitors were becoming more and more infrequent, the chapel was practically abandoned, and it was meant to have been locked in the first place! It could only be the work of vandals, especially at that time of the night. He had better go and take a proper look. 

He searched through his briefcase for a large iron key. He smiled when he finally found it but his smiled quickly turned to a frown of concern when he realized that the door was unlocked. He proceeded with caution, walking slowly, trying not to make noise. One could not be too careful nowadays. His eyes had been telling him the truth when he had thought he had seen a light. There was a fire between the altar and the front benches, he realised alarmed.

Father McKenna tried to avoid having his presence discovered by being extra quiet. He saw an intruder kneeling by the fire. It looked like a boy of about sixteen. He was pale, skinny and had dark circles under his eyes. He thought him a beggar, or probably drug addict. The priest managed to gather enough courage to confront the stranger. Draco didn't notice McKenna at first. When he did, his immediate reaction was to reach out for his wand.

"In the name of the Lord! What are you doing in my church?"

Hearing the word "Lord" brought reality crashing back down on him. "Sir, I mean you no harm, I swear, I mean you no harm," answered Draco, a little scared and completely startled.

"So what may I ask, are you doing here, setting the place on fire?" 

"This will not burn your church, sir," Malfoy tried to reassure him.

"You think I am an eejit. Do you?"

"No, sir," replied Draco almost in auto-pilot.

Father McKenna did not know what to think at that stage, what to make of the youngster. He was well spoken enough, posh, one would say. But then, this kind of thing happened even in the best of families. Wouldn't he know about it!  After all, he dealt with those kind of people on a regular basis.

"Get up and put that out," he commanded impatiently.

Draco, frightened and half asleep, got up to his feet and did as he was told, although he extinguished the fire the wizarding way without thinking about it. The priest blinked in disbelief. It was far too late anyway, surely he was seeing things.

"What are you doing here?"

"I came to seek sanctuary, sir," Malfoy stated automatically, surprising himself.

McKenna, not in the mood for sarcasm, asked, "Are you taking the mickey?"

"No, sir. I think I am in trouble," confessed Draco.

"With the police that will be?" McKenna more muttered to himself than asked.

"No," Malfoy responded categorically.

"With your parents?"

"Maybe," Draco replied a little defiantly.

"What have you done, you rascal? I bet your mother is worried about you."

Draco lowered his gaze, unwilling to show the fact that being cut off from his own world saddened and worried him, "I bet she is."

"Don't give me cheek, boy." 

"I'm not. I'm just tired."

"It looks as if you could do with a decent meal. Are you on drugs, boy?"

Malfoy pulled a face at the priest in confusion. "Drugs?"

"Yes, drugs. Don't look at me like that."

Comprehension suddenly entered Malfoy's mind. Obviously, not knowing anything about the Muggle world was proving to be a big disadvantage. "You mean stimulants?" He nearly said potions.

"Don't you play games with me!" 

"I'm here because I was left here by a friend." 

"Ok, I see, this is some kind of college prank." McKenna now looked into the boy's eyes and smiled at him knowingly, with the sort of look that a teacher would give a kid who has just been caught messing about.

"Something like that." He resolved it was better to say something his questioner expected to hear.

"Have you got the money for a ticket home?" the Father asked concerned.

"No. Also, I cannot leave until my friend picks me up. I am in danger."

"In danger from what? We hide no criminals in here, do you understand?"

"But my friend said I could have forty days!" protested Draco, unsure as to how to go about this.

"Forty days indeed! Have you just come from Dr. Who or something? This ain't the bloody Middle Ages.” He quickly did the sign of the cross as he realised that he had sworn in the House of God. “As I said, on drugs!" he added as if speaking to himself.

Draco realised that, unless he was to come up with something and soon, he would have the Muggle police to deal with and, if he was unlucky, the Muggle publicity that could come with it. There were enough Muggleborns around to read the Muggle paper, such as that Mudblood Granger, who could recognise him. This was not looking good. "I would like to confess, sir," he announced, surprising the priest.

"To confess? I suppose ..." McKenna blinked again but he thought that if that was what the kid wanted, it was after all his duty.

Malfoy was now invoking the power of his memory to try to recall everything he had ever heard about Muggle religion, Christian religion, in fact. Although he knew little, he was aware there were different types. He had to admit, he could have done with Granger and her knowledge of the Muggle world at that point.

"You see, we got in with the wrong people and I was asked to kill a man," Draco said as matter-of-factly as he could muster.

"To kill a man?" The priest sounded horrified. "So, you are, or were, in a gang?"

"You could say that, I suppose. He threatened to kill my family if I didn't." 

"As I said, boy. This is, after all, a matter for the police. But the Lord is merciful, and, if you confess..." added the Father weighing up Draco's chances of redemption.

"The Lord?" Malfoy was becoming increasingly freaked out at the sound of this word. In his short experience, he had never known the Dark Lord to be known for his mercy.

Father McKenna sighed. It is far too late to even think about beginning to discuss this. He guessed he would  just have to take the kid in for the night."Ok. I can see this is going to be a long night. I think you better come with me. I can give you a bed. It's not much but it will have to do. Now, do not try to escape. I know what you look like. I will call the police if you do."

The police could be no worse than Dementors, Malfoy thought, but still he was not in any hurry to acquaint himself with them.

"I won't go anywhere. I have nowhere to go," Draco said sullenly.

"We shall see about that. You sound far too posh to me!" retorted the priest with a certain suspicion.

"I go, I went," he corrected, "to boarding school, sir. That's probably why you think I'm posh," he explained.

"Stop calling me sir." The way in which Malfoy was addressing him was beginning to irritate McKenna.

The priest took Malfoy with him to his quarters and decided maybe the boy could do with a wee beer and a bite to eat.

The priest broke the silence by asking the boy's name.

Of course, Draco was not remotely prepared to disclose his real identity, not in case the "police" and the Muggle equivalent to Rita Skeeter got hold of him. "Tim Adams, sir," he replied with the first name that came to his head.

"I told you to stop calling me sir," McKenna growled.

"Ok, what is your name, then?" asked Draco trying to sound more assertive.

The older man smiled and replied in a friendly tone, "Father McKenna, Sean McKenna. Come on, be a good boy and call your mum, she's surely worried about you."

"You don't understand, I can't, I TOLD YOU! I come from a different place, we don't do things the way you do." He was getting now to the end of his tether. Why did everything have to be so complicated? Why couldn't this man just leave him alone!

The priest was utterly confused. "Whatever do you mean, boy?"

"As I said, I can't say anymore. Please, don't ask me," Draco almost begged.

"Ok. Now tell me about this man that you are supposed to kill." The priest could not deny his own curiosity.

A grim expression crossed Draco's face as he spoke. "He is dead now, anyway."

"God rest his soul. What did you say? WHAT DID YOU DO?" McKenna's eyes now denoted true panic.

"I didn't. That is the whole point. I COULDN'T, I DIDN'T. That is why I was hiding in your church," Malfoy replied angrily.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph! We don't need this kind of trouble here!"

"Don't worry, I think those looking for me will not find me in this place. At least not for forty days. That is the magic, I think," Draco tried to reassure him.

McKenna was getting more worried by the minute. "And here we come again with the forty blessed days! Explain yourself, boy. What is this about, and did you just say magic? By the way, what did you do to that fire? How did you get rid of it?"

Draco felt disarmed. He was in enough trouble in his world without having to worry about the Ministry being after him for revealing their existence. You may as well be hanged for a lamb as for a sheep! he thought. "Ok, I am a wizard," he confessed.

"You mean a frigging Pagan?" corrected Sean McKenna slightly horrified.

"Something like that."

"Are your parents the same?" McKenna asked.

"Very much so, sir," Draco's reply had sounded proud, even if he hadn't intended to come across quite like that.

The priest couldn't keep himself from asking, "And this dead man, who killed him?"

"Someone I know but I can't tell you. I think he is in trouble too. Maybe he is dead as well."

"This is beginning to test my patience, boy. It's beginning to sound like the mafia!" exclaimed the priest, shaking his head.

"Mafia? What's the mafia?"

"Now, don't be clever with me, boy!" McKenna warned him.

Draco resolved that from now on that it would be best to just nod and the like. Obviously, having taken Muggle Studies would have helped him now. Who would have thought! "It is all very complicated. Where I come from, there is a war going on," Draco begun.

"War? What war are you on about? The troubles in the Middle East?” asked the priest willing for Malfoy continue with his story.

"No, not that one. You've got to trust me. I come from a different place."

"It well sounds like it," McKenna admitted.

"One guy thinks he can conquer immortality," started Draco.

Father McKenna had a scandalized and outraged expression on his face as he ranted, "Blasphemous! Preposterous! Our souls are immortal, but we have to die first!" He thought that he had heard it all now, immortal indeed!

"He doesn't think so. He has gathered followers, many amongst the best families."

"There ain't such things as best families in God's eyes," corrected the priest.

"Well, there are in our world," Malfoy answered back.

Father McKenna was secretly rather entertained with this tale and decided to let him carry on. The boy indeed had an imagination. Maybe he was a wannabe poet, or a singer-song-writer. "Are you from America? All kind of queer things happen in America, I am told."

Draco was flabbergasted. 'How in the name of Merlin did he come up with that?' "No, I am not. Do I sound American to you?"

"No, I don't think so. Anyway, if you are going to be here for forty days, I better put you to some use. Are you good at anything?"

This was worryingly beginning to sound as if he wanted to use him as a house elf. However, given the circumstances, Draco thought he better not mention. "I don't know. I can fix things for you, I guess." He thought this should be little trouble as he could always use magic when the priest wasn't looking.

"Just out of curiosity," asked the Father, "what happens when the forty days are up?"

"According to Muggle tradition..."

"To what tradition?" he asked, uncertain as to whether he had heard correctly.

"To old tradition, a posh name for old," Malfoy invented quickly.

"I see..." McKenna said somewhat unconvinced.

"You either give yourself up or leave the country for good. I am hoping though, that things will get sorted out before then," Malfoy said truly hoping for his wish to come true.

"And if they don't?"

"Then, I haven't a clue," he concluded.


Before going to bed Draco remembered to do the memory charm. He was aiming at only erasing from the priest's memory the bits about the magical world, however, he had to admit, he had never cast this before. He would just have to wait until the following day to see how it had worked.

Chapter 5: Ancient Lores
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This is the first chapter image I did the hard way; i.e. working with very small images and deleting with the eraser.  Not brilliant I know...

Early on Friday morning, Harry and Ron were woken up by a cheerful Mrs. Weasley, who bribed them with the idea of a lavish English breakfast.

Two main problems flashed in front of Harrry's mind. Firstly, how to deal with Ginny and secondly, he thought he ought to discuss with Ron and Hermione his conversation with Molly and Lupin. In other words, should they tell them about the Horcruxes? On both these matters, his own opinion was completely divided.

The whole household was booming with activity. Fleur and Mrs. Weasley were almost hysterical trying to think of the final preparations. Everything had to be perfect, nothing could go wrong. Mrs. Weasley would have preferred for the whole event to take place at the Burrow but, then again, she had had to concede that tradition usually gave this right to the bride's family. After all, there was going to be a dance back at the Burrow in the evening with all attending and, going to a French chateau for the occasion was an exciting prospect anyway.

Ginny had the perfect excuse to avoid the boys generally. She was helping Fleur, trying out her bridesmaid dress once again, rehearsing her hair-do and those of the other girls... She would think about The Chosen One another time.  This being said, she was going to make sure she looked positively stunning.

Alastor Moody was in the garden muttering incantations, presumably trying to protect the place. The Death Eaters were bound to know about the wedding and about the fact that most members of the Order would be in attendance. Harry realised this and hoped beyond all hope that, after what Bill had gone through, this wouldn't come to spoil his and Fleur's special day, but despite all the precautions that had been taken, he worried.

After breakfast, he rounded up Ron and Hermione at the back of the garden, in a quiet spot. He hadn't had a proper chance to talk to either of them since he had left Hogwarts for Privet Drive. He started by telling them about his mother's letter and his aunt Petunia's attitude change. In fact, he let them read it.

"That means, your mother knew she was going to die. That looks to me like a good-bye letter, mate," said Ron in a way that came out more bluntly than he had intended.

"Yes, I know," conceded Harry feeling a bit down, "also, she didn't foresee a betrayal, or who would end up being blamed. She said that someone else would take care of me." He paused. "I bet she was thinking about Sirius." This seemed to sadden him even further.

Hermione sighed in resignation. "Come on, Harry, we cannot change the past, what's happened's happened."

"But what a bitch, your aunt, not replying to her!" added Ron with his customary subtlety.

"Anyway, as Hermione says, what's happened's happened," replied Harry still looking morose.

"At least we now have the address for Godric's Hollow," commented Ron on a more cheerful note.

"Problem is, we won't be able to see the house. It is under the Fidelius Charm, remember? Only Pettigrew can take us there," Harry reasoned.

"Bugger, forgot 'bout that," Ron admitted.

"Harry," Hermione changed the subject. "Did you get my letter? You didn't reply."

It took Harry a moment to respond as he was distracted while playing with some leaves. "To be truthfully honest, I was at a loss as to what to say. I thought I'd see you soon enough, anyway."

"And? What do you think?" she asked eagerly.

"Again, Hermione, not a single clue," replied Harry, not truly concentrating on the topic at hand.

Ron looked between his two best friends. "Is this about the Muggle church business?" 

"How did you guess?" Hermione smiled.

"Well, I think you, Hermione, or even your father, Ron, are the best people to shed some light on this," Harry contributed. "You are Muggleborn and Ron’s Dad, well..."

"Yeah, he's obsessed with Muggle stuff," Ron said, finishing Harry's sentence. 

Harry nodded in assent. 

"Well, Harry, surely you know the basics of the Christian faith, about the sacrifice of the Son of God and redemption and all the rest, having been brought up as a Muggle," started Hermione.

"Well, of course, and you Ron?" Harry asked.

"I wouldn't claim to be an expert, mate."

Hermione pressed on in an attempt to bring them back to the real subject at hand. "But the essence of the matter is, why was Slughorn there?"

"Look no further, love,” Ron blushed slightly as he realised that he had just called her love. “He wants to invite the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or even better, both, to one of his parties," he teased.

"Seriously, I just sense there has to be something in it," insisted Hermione.

"Do Muggles do dark magic, or any kind of magic, in their religion?" asked Ron as if at a loss for what else to say or ask.

"Well, this is a very good point, you know. Think about it! There has always been talk about miracles and the like, I mean, Jesus Christ could do all kinds of magical stuff, like turning water into wine."

"That would just be right up Slughorn's street, don't you reckon?" Harry couldn't resist but saying. They laughed again.

"Come on, you two, let's be serious. I think you have hit a nerve, Ron." Hermione went on.

"If Voldemort…, well, if he really hates Muggle stuff so much and thinks it's so beneath him, he would not think that was of any value, now would he?"

"Yeah, but don't forget, he was brought up in a Christian orphanage; he must be well acquainted with ..." observed Harry.

"But, even so," contributed Ron. "Why does Slughorn want Muggle magic, or protection? What for? Is he in trouble? I never worked out which side he's on."

"I think he just wants to steer clear of trouble, to avoid being attacked. He put up a great pretence when Dumbledore and I visited, just in case. You see, he's frightened out of his wits. Anyway, it's something to think about"

The following morning the two boys rose early, without the need for Mrs. Weasley's customary knock on the door. Both Harry and Ron felt quite excited and proceeded quickly towards the bathroom, before the girls had a chance to get in there and it became unavailable for hours on end.

When Ron finished brushing his teeth he said, "I've never been to France before, have you?"

"Nope," replied Harry, wiping away the excess shaving foam.

"The food and the wine are said to be the best. I hope so, anyway," said Ron, thinking once again with his stomach.

After spending an hour or so trying to keep away from the hustle and bustle, waiting for the rest of the household to be ready to go, someone finally announced that the time had now come. Mrs. Weasley was acting like an orchestra conductor, arranging everything and positioning everyone. They were all now ready to Apparate to the chateau in Burgundy. Well, apart from Luna Lovegood and, her date, Neville Longbottom, who had decided on using the Floo network and showed up at the wedding from top to bottom covered in ash.

Before departing, Mrs. Weasley turned to her daughter. "Please, Ginny, make sure she's not forgotten the tiara."

"Yes, mum," Ginny replied rolling her eyes.

The ceremony was beautiful. The attendees congregated in a circle on the grounds of the mansion, a truly splendid place. Fleur's family must be pretty well off, thought Ron. Fleur's mother looked exactly like her, only slightly older. This was going to be too much, all those part-Veela French girls! But Hermione looked very nice too in a lovely violet dress and high heels with her hair all done up.

Harry couldn't but notice that Ginny looked incredible, almost like a fairy. She wore a slightly low cut, long pale gold and ivory dress which enhanced her curves, acessorized with long gloves similar to those worn in old films. Her red hair was curled up and held up with a band. All the girls looked lovely, in particular, the astonishing bride. Yet Harry had only eyes for Ginny. He was trying to stop his mind from wondering, from fantasising, but didn't find it easy.

Harry and Ron didn't look bad themselves. Ron was able to wear brand new dress robes and a bow tie as the twins had donated the money. They both looked handsome and grown up.

Harry's bright green eyes stood out in that outfit, Ginny thought. She had to admit, he was no longer the "Boy" Who Lived but a young man ready to take command, he exhaled charisma.

Fleur, holding her father's arm, moved towards the centre of the circle, Bill was aready there, holding his mother's arm, waiting for her.

Mr. Delacour and Mrs. Weasley stood aside. Fleur's dress was pale ivory and almost impossible to describe. It was as if she was surrounded by a circle of pure light. A French man, who Harry thought must be the wizarding equivalent to a priest, stood in front of them. He took their hands and talked about the power of love. The power of love, damn it! That's what I need to find out more about! Harry reminded himself. Then, bride and groom's hands were placed together. They drew their wands but in a way that Harry had not seen before, not as if they were about to duel. This was a different way altogether. When the wands made contact with each other, sparks started flying from their tips, much to the audience's applause and delight. This reminded Harry of what had happened in Riddle's tomb, between Voldemort's wand and his own. But this time, there was no Priori Incantatem, no dead people came back from their graves. This was something happy and extremely special. He felt an electric current crossing his spine. There was very old magic at play there, just like Dumbledore had said, the magic of love.

The couple dropped their wands and kissed for what seemed like an eternity. Despite Bill's scarred faced, they looked like the most beautiful couple in the world. It was their right. It was their day. But Harry knew that something more had taken place; this was old, very old and very powerful, like a vow made truly for life, not like in the Muggle world where people, especially the rich and famous, got married almost on a yearly basis. This was different. He could sense there was some kind of magical contract involved. If he was to survive this war, he promised himself, he would never get married the Muggle way. Not even if he married a Muggle woman, but then again, his heart was set on a witch anyway. Maybe that joining magic that made wizards and witches husband and wife offered a protection, like the kind his mother had given him. It must do. But then again, he remembered, it had not aided his parents much, had it? 

Everyone congratulated the newly-weds and proceeded towards the feast. There was an impressive buffet comprised of a large selection of fine French cuisine, which was later to be followed by a full sit-down meal. Champagne, wine and many other refreshments were flowing in abundance.  Ron stared at all the food before grabbing a plate to wait his turn, even he didn't think he could manage it all.

"This was bloody amazing, mate," Harry said to Ron. "Have you been to a wedding before?"

"Only when I was a kid and I don't remember much. But yeah, this is good. Magnificent setting, incredible women, I could live with this!"  Ron answered merrily.

"Yeah, but I mean, the actual ceremony. What was that about?"

"What do you mean? Are you dense? They just got married," replied Ron matter-of-factly.

"Yeah but, what about the wands and the sparkles?"

Ron was piling a delicious variety of foods onto his plate as he answered, "That is part of the lore."

"Is the contract binding? I mean, like the Unbreakable Vow?" enquired Harry.

"Well, you don't die if you break it but it is complicated. I would say, if you break it, you owe a debt. After all, it's meant to be forever. So be careful who you pick!" joked Ron.

"You mean a debt like if someone owes you their life, like Pettigrew and I?"

"Well, not exactly like that but you better ask my mum. Let's find a table and eat. Let's sample that highly spoken of Burgundy wine. I can't wait!"

Soft classical music played in the background and the whole place seemed truly enchanted. There were a lot of people there he knew. Harry was pleasantly surprised to see Hagrid, looking unusually smart, in deep conversation with Madame Maxime, Lupin and Tonks, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. But there were also a lot of people he didn't know. Like a handsome young French chap, likely a relative of Fleur's, who was chatting up his Ginny. Or was he merely talking to her? He couldn't tell and he didn't care either.  A sense of dread entered Harry's mind. What if they really hit it off? What then? Without losing sight of how dangerous it would be for her to be with him, the last thing he wanted was for him to have to be back there, say in a few years time, to celebrate Ginny's wedding to that French git!  He was going to ask her to dance.

But he couldn't muster his confidence. Instead, he sat by an old perennial tree nursing a glass of champagne in his hand.

"Are you Ok, Harry?" He was abruptly brought back to reality by the person he least expected, Minerva McGonagall.

He gulped. "Professor?"

"'Harry? What are you doing here all by yourself?" she asked softly, almost in a motherly way.

"Well, I'm not a very good dancer," he excused himself.

"Nonsense. Would you care to dance with a much older woman?"

"With you, Professor? Are you asking me?" 

"I am, Mr Potter," she said grinning at him overtly.  Harry was a little suprised, as he was used to her in her role of Head of House.

"All right then, but you better lead me."

In fact, McGonagall was not bad dancer at all, old as she surely was. Harry couldn't cast away the thought that it would have been lovely to see her dance with Dumbledore on this occasion, even if not romantically.

"Cheer up, Harry. There is a long way ahead but you must live as well. I think someone told you that once." She smiled whilst she graciously moved Harry's body towards the centre of the scene. 

"What about young Ginny? Are you not going to ask her for a dance?"

"As you can tell for yourself, I'm no dancer." Even McGonagall seemed to know about his situation with Ginny and why could nobody understand him? He was fighting his most inner desires and all people wanted to do was play matchmaker, he thought, getting slightly irritated.

"You can't fool me, Harry. I have seen the way you look at that girl. Love is not a bad thing, you know; it can be a strong weapon." 

"So I've been told." Harry replied remembering Dumbledore again. "Have you ever been in love, Professor?" Immediately after asking this very personal question, Harry began to realise that he must be getting a little tipsy, maybe everyone was.

"In answer to your question, yes, Harry, twice. Both my husbands are dead, though."

"I am, I am, sooo, sooo sorry to hear, Professor," replied Harry a little embarrassed for having brought up a potentially painful subject.

"You can call me Minerva here, since you are dancing with me." She is clearly a strong woman, he thought.

"Sorry, Min.. Minerva. In the first war, was it?"

His Head of House sighed sadly. "Yes and no. The first one no, the second one yes."

"Do you have any children?"

"I'm afraid not. There was always too much going on," she said dryly, almost with regret.

"I am glad for Hagrid, aren't you?" he said changing the topic.

She smiled. "Yes, he hasn't had an easy life, bless him. He deserves a bit of happiness. And, so do you, Harry Potter." And with a skilful swing, she threw Harry into Ginny's arms, who had just finished a dance.


"Ginny? This is not what you think. It was bloody McGonagall," he whispered to her.

Ginny had seen the scene and she just burst out laughing. "Harry, it isn't a crime, you know!" stated Ginny, repressing a wide smile and leading him into dancing yet another slow song.

"A crime, what?"

"Men are thick, I will always say so," she said with a chuckle.

"Ginny, don't take any notice of what I do or say, I think I'm drunk," he tried to excuse himself.

"You will get there eventually, but you are not drunk yet. Where is the famous courage you are supposed to be known for? Don't pull that one on me!"

"I know I'm drunk because I still fancy you," he ventured, feeling as if had been someone else who had uttered those words.

Ginny laughed again, for lack of a better response. "Do you, Mr. Potter?" she defied him.

"Well, no, of course I don't, I TOLD YOU I'M DRUNK!" Harry was now beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable.

'"That's funny. Most people who are drunk protest they're not. Take Ron or the twins, they are having a wonderful time getting smashed and denying it and yet you are kind of boasting about it. I think you are using it as an excuse, Mr. Potter." 

The champagne he had consumed in solitude was now starting to take effect for real, and Harry's next words came out rather slurred. "Why do you keep on calling me Mr. Potter?" 

"Because I think it sounds sexy, and I am not drunk," said Ginny, with a very sensual grin on her face.

"Do you mind if we sit down for a bit? McGonagall has given me a good run for my money."

"I could see that!" laughed Ginny.

"I don't want you to spoil your dress," said Harry as she sat on the grass. "You look beautiful."

"Thanks, Harry."

They remained sitting there for a few moments without saying a word.

"I wonder," Harry said, "the Death Eaters must know we are all getting wasted. It is definitely not the best state to be in if they were to attack."

"I doubt they'll attack here. Most of them are more familiar with England after all," Ginny told him, more hoping than knowing.

He turned his head to look at her. "What about the Burrow?"

"Mad Eye, I believe, was seeing to that."

"Do you have your wand?" asked Harry, not exactly sure where he was heading himself.

"Of course I have my wand!" replied Ginny almost annoyed. Of course she was prepared for all eventualities!

"What is it made of? I don't think I've ever asked you that before." Harry couldn't hide his curiosity.

"Yew, the core is unicorn hair. Do you want to see it?" But then she thought he must have seen it thousands of times when they practised at the DA.

"Yeah, this is mine," he said, as he pulled out his wand, fumbling a little as it got caught in the folds of his robes. "Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, gave two feathers. I have a wand with one; guess who has the other?" He had just revealed something very personal, he realised, but he couldn't back off now.

"Tom?" Ginny had always referred to Voldemort as Tom ever since the diary experience.

"That's right."

They were both a bit tired and seemed quite relaxed. They just laid peacefully on the lawn. Harry was now caressing her hair distractedly.

"Ginny, would you join your wand with mine?" he blurted out. He hadn't managed to find out everything about wizarding customs and was intrigued.

She smiled but was almost alarmed. "Harry, if we do that, I'll be married to you!"


"You have seen it before, Harry. Do you remember the sparks earlier? When that happens, a binding contract is made" she explained.

Harry froze. "Ginny, I didn't mean that, I swear I didn't know."

"As I said, you're dense!" Ginny seemed to be almost offended.

"Look, Ginny, I would marry you this minute if I wasn't going to die, or cause you to be dead ... So many people had died because of me!" His eyes were radiating with feelings of pain, of desire and of revenge. "But I can't because I have a gut feeling I am going to die anyway. I mean everybody is, but I mean, soon. I won't put you through that, well, perhaps only, only if you were to promise me that you will find someone else after I'm gone, someone good to you."

"Yeah, like Pierre, I saw the looks you were giving us. That's why McGonagall came to your rescue."

"I mean it, Ginny." There was a sense of urgency in his voice. "I mean it! Otherwise, I'll come back for you after the war is over, I promise. That is, if you'd still have me."

She tussled his hair and began kissing his forehead. She was kissing his scar and he could feel the opposite to what he had felt when Voldemort touched it. He could feel something deep, sublime. It was hard, it was very hard, in every way, for his body and his mind. He had to let go, otherwise he was going to be married to her that very night.

Eventually they all Apparated back to the Burrow for the final dance, which was meant to go on well into the night. Afterwards they would watch as the newlyweds departed for their honeymoon. The Burrow had been enchanted so that all the guests could stay there, more or less comfortably, like they had done with the tents for the Quiditch Word Cup. After all, Fleur's lot seemed used to a great deal of comfort back in France.

"I love you, Molly," Fleur mumbled.

"I love you, Fleur! To think I had my doubts at the beginning!" Molly confessed under the influence of the wine and champagne.

The Burrow too looked lovely with gold sparkles everywhere; everything was glittery, festive and full of the celebratory spirit.

In the kitchen, a large eagle owl rapped on the window. Molly opened it and took a letter from its leg. She read it very quickly and passed it over to Moody straight away.

"STOP THERE, EVERYBODY!" shouted Alastor in a menacing way.

The place, however, was in perfect order, everything was tidy and in place. There seemed to be no need for this panic. The musicians were ready and were taken aback by this commotion. He started to read out aloud:

"The Death Eaters have taken Petunia Dursley, Harry's Aunt from a Muggle car park. My sources indicate she is being held at number 59 Towers Court, Elephant & Castle, South London. Good luck and congratulations!"

"It's unsigned," Moddy continued.

"Ah, ah, really?" shocked voices exclaimed. The atmosphere changed. Mad-Eye, proceeding very fast, took up his wand and stunned Harry as he was rushing up to see what was going on, before even Ginny, who was by his side, had the time to react.
"No worries, I have stunned this one," said Alastor, pointing at Harry. "He is too drunk anyway to go anywhere. As are most of you," he added disapprovingly.

Hermione shuddered and held her mother's hand tightly. "But Moody," she shouted "It's his family. He has the right to know!"

"I'll tell you what's right, Miss." Alastor had taken complete command.

"It's a trap, Moody, it's a trap. Can't you see it?!" Hermione shouted back.

Chapter 6: Shambles
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Thanks so much to Shellee for the awesome chapter image

"Those of you who aren't drunk, and I mean, WHO AREN'T DRUNK, "shouted Moody "come with me!" Alastor looked around for a response. "They want the boy, but the boy is not going anywhere!" he continued.

"Professor Moody," Hermione's voice raised again. "This is a trap, like the one at the Ministry, can't you see it? It cannot be true, she cannot have been taken and you know it, because his aunt's house is protected, until the day Harry comes of age."

Hermione's parents were very proud of their young offspring's performance, of her assertiveness, her passion and her use of logic.

"Yes, my dear know-it-all, but she wasn't taken from her house, was she now? She was taken from a bloody Muggle car park! So, we'll just have to trap them in turn and, with a bit of luck, we may even get that Lestrange bitch!" Moody snapped.

Hermione shuddered again. Her mother's eyes crossed hers.

"We are going with him, for you and for your friends!" stormed Jane Granger.

"NO, YOU WON'T, YOU CAN'T" shouted Hermione anxiously. "YOU CAN'T DO MAGIC, THIS IS DANGEROUS!"

Several people, including the bride and groom, who had not drank in excess as they hadn't wanted to ruin their special day, came forward without hesitation.

"We'll help!" shouted Bill.

"But not you, Princess" Moody said to the bride. "You don't want to get killed before you get a chance to consummate your marriage."

"If yoo zink just because I'm French I have no courage, you got anozer zing coming!"

"Moody is right. It's not about courage, love," Bill said searching for his wife's gaze, throwing at her a look of complicity, as if trying to remind her of a secret they shared.

"I'm going wiz you and zat's zat!" she said obstinately, quickly running up the stairs to change into something more comfortable.

"I'll go, I'll go," said George. "We have drunk a bit but we are still of use."

"We are tricksters, if you must know!" added Fred trying to lighten up the mood.

"You two are way too drunk!" said Moody uncompromisingly.

Ron, similarly wanted to go, but was far over the limit. Ginny did too but she wasn't allowed as she was underage.

"Take care of your loverboy instead," said Moody to Ginny in a rather crude manner.

"Now, you and your husband, you're Muggles, dentists, I understand?" Mad-Eye said turning back to the Grangers and asking for confirmation.

The Grangers nodded. "But we have some medical knowledge, there may be injuries," Jane Granger pleaded. ''Also, our girl has been a witch all this time. We could help out, in someway." She was extremely keen.

"Mum, don't. I'll go; I am the one in the thick of this. You don't understand the danger!" protested Hermione panicking.

"'Hermione is right," shouted Molly Weasley. "Mrs Granger hasn't a chance against Death Eaters."

"Jane, if you want to be of service," continued Molly kindly, "stay here and care for the wounded on their return, you are knowledgeable. Use your skills like this. There will be plenty of opportunity, no doubt. Look what happened to my son, bitten by a werewolf! No offence, Remus," she whispered to Lupin.

"You missus, stay here!" said Mad-Eye addressing Mrs Granger. “You'd be in grave danger with us, we cannot allow..."

Hermione didn't know what to do for the best. Ron and Harry were staying behind, but maybe that was the actual trap, to get everyone gallivanting someplace else and to attack the Burrow, where Harry was being kept against his will. But, how could the Death Eaters know that Harry would be left behind? Umm... What was she to do? Ron would stay; she was able to go or to stay. Her parents and best friends staying - Umm...

"I'll go too," said Hermione after a split second. "I can be of use. The others cannot, but they need better protection than this, Alastor, the ones staying! They need better protection!"

"The Burrow is protected, Miss - that's why they haven't come here to cause trouble!" replied Alastor, pretty confident about the efficacy of his incantations. However, he reflected for a second.

"Ok, Remus, Arthur and Molly, you'd better stay. I need reliable people to protect Harry and the others," Moody concluded.

The members of the Order who had been selected for this mission Apparated to a two-story house in a depressingly poor part of South London. Jane Granger, contrary to instructions and to Hermione's wishes, had held onto her daughter's arm and had ended up side-Apparating with her, so eager she was to help.

The building appeared uninhabited. The windows had been boarded up and the place smelled of stale dampness. This was not, of course, the Headquarters of the opposition (if they could be called that); it looked much more like a temporary arrangement.

"We must inform our police," said Jane before entering the building, as she tried to dial 999 from her mobile.

She was interrupted by Tonks who explained that that was not a smart move. They did not want publicity and also there was very little that the Muggle police could do against Death Eaters; things could in fact get a hell of a lot worse!

Jane took the point. After all, she was only there to help.

Tonks went on ahead "Alohomora!" she shouted at a fairly solid looking door, not really hoping to get in. The door remained obstinately shut.

Moody came to her aid. "Confringo!" he called while making a motion with his hand for the Order members to keep away. The seemingly heavy door blasted to bits, throwing splinters all over the place. An entrance hall was visible.

This had been far too easy. The Death Eaters wanted to be found, otherwise the house would not have been plottable, thought Hermione.

"Tonks, Jane and Hermione, go right!" Mad-Eye commanded. "Hagrid, McGonagall and I will go left. Bill and Fleur, take the stairs. Ah, and don't mess around with silly little curses, because, I can assure you, they won't!" he warned, storming off.

Jane and Hermione, led by Tonks, went right into the kitchen / dining area.

Petunia was there all right, tied to a kitchen chair with what appeared to be magically conjured ropes. She was alone, her eyes wide open, horror-struck. No matter how badly she had treated Harry in the past, Hermione could not help but feel a lot of pity.

"Mrs Dursley, Mrs Dursley," she said softly, "my mother is a Muggle too, I mean non-magical, we are here to try to rescue you."

"Where is Harry?" she asked impatiently although her voice was fading due to either shock or fear.

"We have been to a wedding. He's not been allowed to come, he had a bit to drink," explained Hermione as if trying to let Petunia into a secret.

"I knew he'd let me down!" 

"That isn't true!" Hermione protested. The last thing she wanted was for her to believe her nephew had betrayed her. "He has been Stunned. It's a spell," she explained. "He cannot move, won't be able to until this is over. My colleague has seen to that. He's been prevented by our side to come here because we think this is a trap to get him."

"Mother, talk to her, she is like you," urged Hermione.

"Petunia, is it?" asked Mrs Granger.

"Yes, madam. He promised he would see that we come to no harm!" cried Harry's aunt.

"Petunia, it's Jane," she said it in a soothing tone, in the way she would talk to people afraid of the dentist.

As Jane was trying to calm down Petunia, Tonks quickly proceeded to attempt an unbinding spell. She hadn't expected it to work, especially, not first time. Again, this had seemed far too easy.

Petunia got to her feet and shook her clothes as if concerned about dust from the house sticking to them. She mumbled "Thank you" but was looking at her rescuers a little suspiciously, giving away the fact that she was still scared of magic, no matter how much it had helped.

The sense of relief caused by the release of the hostage came quickly to a halt.

"Help! Fleur has been hit! She's bleeding! She's two months pregnant!" yelled Bill.

"What?” Jane Granger although brave as her daughter, was not prepared for that.

Jane and Tonks rushed to the base of the stairs. Hermione remained in the kitchen trying to comfort Harry's aunt.

Lying backwards half way up, bleeding profusely from a multitude of what looked like serious injuries to her face and chest, was Fleur.

"Bellatrix Lestrange got her, with Septusemptra. She's still upstairs, someone go and give her her dues!" shouted Bill. "I'll stay with Fleur!"

Jane Granger didn't hesitate. She rushed towards Fleur's side and she and Bill began hauling her down the stairs. Above, a wand held by a black clad hand aimed downwards.

"Avada Kedavra," yelled a female voice. Bill, holding Fleur, and Tonks took cover but Jane Granger was hit and toppled down the stairs. She lay as if asleep, her lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling.

Tonks fired Stunners upwards at Bellatrix but missed.

"Anyone else wants to die? It would be my pleasure. Just come up these stairs, you blood traitors!" gloated Mrs Lestrange.

The Death Eaters were still waiting for Potter and nothing other than his capture could satisfy their thirst, anyone else was just a token.

Bill was cuddling Fleur, hoping beyond all hope that she would be alright, trying out healing charms to no avail. Everything had happened so quickly and now, for him, time seemed to have stopped. She had been hit really accurately; the curse must have ruptured an artery at least. He tried the blood replenishing charm but it was useless. He held her hand, which was cold and inert. He kissed her very softly trying hard not to cry. He searched with all his heart for an encouraging sign coming from her eyes. It wasn't there and then he knew; she was dead.

Hermione came out of the kitchen. "Mum! Fleur! What's happened?" She raced to her mother's side but Tonks grabbed her quickly from behind and held her very tightly.

"Bellatrix killed them. Go back to the kitchen before she kills you too!" she whispered in a forceful but not unsympathetic way. Hermione screamed horrified. Tonks put her hand to Hermione's mouth urging her to be silent.

"Our priority now is to get out of here alive," she whispered "there'll be time to grieve later," she told her mournfully.

Alastor Moody and Hagrid came to the foot of the stairs. "Left side is clear. McGonagall got 'it by Dolohov, Merlin knows what with! 'e Disapparated before we could get 'im," announced Hagrid.

"Lestrange is up there. She's killed Fleur and Mrs Granger!" yelled Tonks.

"Confrigo!" shouted Moody using the spell again. There was an explosion upstairs. A female voice screamed. Then there was a loud popping noise.

"Attack!" Moody ordered. Tonks and Bill charged up the stairs followed by Hermione.

Tonks and Bill then turned right. "Dammit, she's Disapparated!" Tonks had no choice but to accept.

Hermione sat on the floor in the downstairs living-room for a moment, trying to compose herself, to gather strength. She then got to her feet. Things had come so far that, she decided, if they were to fight a proper war and the other side were using Unforgivables, so should they. To hell with it all! And the Killing Curse for that, if she ever mustered the strength to be able to cast it.

"The blood of a young female..." Fenrir Greyback - who had been lurking around the ground floor for a while unnoticed - muttered, his eyes fuelled with gluttony. He widely opened his voracious mouth and Hermione knew then that he was ready to attack her. She reacted quickly.

"Avada K...."

Hermione's curse was interrupted by Severus Snape, who had come from upstairs but, to Hermione, seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

"You don't have the will to cast that, Granger," he pronounced superiorly. "But I do!" he added grabbing Greyback by his robes and throwing him into a corner of the room disdainfully. The Potions' Master's look upon the werewolf was so penetrating that it gave the impression that he was giving Fenrir a silent order. Greyback lowered his gaze almost letting it show that he feared Snape's killing skills.

"Go to Hell, Snape. YOU MURDERER!" She looked at him intensely, true hatred in her eyes, almost overlooking the fact that Snape had in all probability saved her life.

"And I thought I'd just found you trying to become one too," he said without a trace of emotion.

"THIS IS DIFFERENT! I'm on the right side!" yelled Hermione.

"This is all subjective, is it not?" Now, get the fuck out of here, promptly!. Before I have to kill you! And Merlin knows I do not want to,’’ Snape hissed into her ear, conveying very clearly how urgent the matter was.

"Potter isn't here, we are wasting our time!" the former Potions Master yelled at Fenrir.

There was a cracking sound and on that note Snape, holding Greyback against his will, Disapparated.

"The house is now secure," confirmed Tonks a few minutes later, after having had a proper check.

Hermione run back into the room where she had left Harry's Aunt.

Meanwhile, drunk or not drunk, Harry had realised he had been Stunned by Moody and was bloody furious. One of his worst nightmares had come to pass; that something would happen at the wedding. Yes, they had been clever, it wasn't the chateau, or the Burrow, it had happened elsewhere and he had enough sense left in him to see that they had wanted to provoke him. But, had they known his relationship with Petunia had improved? And if so, how? Only a few, very few trusted people knew about that. Were any of them under the Imperius Curse or worse, was one of them a traitor? Then he realised that, unless he was careful, he would turn into another Alastor Moody before he could say Quidditch!

The charm had now lifted and both Harry and Ron seemed to have sobered up a bit and were waiting. This wait felt, to both boys, far worse than being involved in action.

"Right everyone, let's get back to The Burrow," concluded Moody. At his feet laid Minerva McGonagall. She was breathing shallowly and was unconscious. He carried her back.

The remaining Order members and Petunia had now got back too.

Last of all, Hagrid, a forlorn figure carrying the bodies of Fleur and Mrs Granger Apparated into the Weasleys’ back garden fighting off tears.

"Thanks for bringing my mother," wept Hermione, who had just arrived back herself. "She was a Christian, she would have wanted a proper burial."

Hagrid carried the casualties upstairs, whilst Hermione remained in the garden, not really wanting to talk with anyone.

Petunia felt at a complete loss for what to say to anybody. After all, they had managed to rescue her and at a great price but, hadn't it been for the state of their world, none of this would have happened, she reasoned.

Ron and Harry heard a commotion and went outside to find out what it was. It was so soul destroying to see the wedding decorations still up, the marquees still in place. The musicians had now left but no-one had bothered to even clear the snacks laid on the tables.

"Hermione! What's happened!" screamed Ron, when he looked at her face.

Hermione had hardly the strength to reply. Petunia did instead. "Fleur is dead, so is Hermione's mother."

"You can't be serious?" said Harry, his eyes locked into hers.

"Of course I am serious." She paused for breath. "And, by the way, the man you all blame is not the man you think," she added, as if talking in riddles.

Hermione started to walk briskly indoors, into the lounge.

"Hermione?" Ron was now seriously worried about her and ran into the house to catch up with her.
He gave her a big hug and almost immediately he found she had passed out in the living-room couch. Nothing could make her wake-up. It would have been too painful.

Harry thought about it. When his parents had died, he had been barely one, he couldn't remember, it couldn't have registered. But, Hermione ..., her mother had acted like a hero, she should be proud of her! But, so had Harry's mother, and she met the same end, the same bloody end. To think that a few hours ago, all he wanted to do was marry Ginny! Even his own aunt, a Muggle, had been targeted!

"Sorry, Aunt!" Harry said approaching her politely. He felt once again struck by feelings of guilt. All they had wanted was him, just him, he thought.

"Your friend told me, about some weird man rendering you incapable but the fact is you were drunk!" Petunia replied giving him a disapproving look.

'It was a wedding, we were all a bit drunk. Well, luckily not all. I won't ever get drunk again until he is dead, I bloody won't!" and he hit a garden table so hard that it almost split.

"Now you. What happened? From the beginning!" asked Harry looking at Mrs Dursley in a suspicious way.

'I went to collect the car back from the car park," she sobbed. "I'd been shopping. It all went black, I don't know what happened after that, but I think the man your mother knew, the dark haired fellow, made it easy for me and for your lot."

"You mean Snape? He…he's the one who killed Dumbledore, the old man, as you call him!" Harry was now hyperventilating.

"We must contact Uncle Vernon and Dudley!" insisted Harry

"No, your uncle would blame me, for having ever had anything to do with your world, he wouldn't understand.” She seemed truly scared. “Vernon would panic. It's best if they think that I have been involved in a minor car accident, but that I'm fine now."

Car accidents seemed to have become a universal cover-up for anything caused by the Dark Arts in Petunia's little world.

"'For God on Earth, Aunt, they must be dead with worry by now!"

"You don't see it do you? You silly boy! And, you, you were never there to protect me as you promised!" she complained, looking as if she was actually blaming him for the whole episode.

"Moody put a spell on me!"

"'I know about the bloody spell!" Harry had never heard his aunt swear before.

"Someone staged that, don't you see?" explained Mrs Dursley "And he didn't want me, or you, or your little friends killed. Your friend's mother and the young woman were casualties he could not prevent."

"You mean Snape again. Did you know him before? Please, IT'S IMPORTANT!" Harry was extremely surprised to hear his aunt speak of Snape like that. It was almost scary.

"He visited your mother a couple of times. I went out with him a couple of times, nothing really significant."

"Bleeding Norah!" Harry didn't expect this. He just couldn't cope with this information.

"So, you believe he wouldn't see you harmed and told the others to get out of the way? Why did he use you as bait, though?" Harry counter-argued.

"I guess because he had to," said Petunia feeling clearly uncomfortable with the topic.

"So, you're a witch?" Harry asked bluntly looking for confirmation.

"No, Harry. I will never be that," she clarified with pride.

"Very well. The end of night chronicle is that, Jane Granger, Hermione's mother is dead, and that so is the bride, Fleur."

"And, and... her unborn baby," added Petunia timidly.

"This just gets better by the minute!" snapped Harry venting his anger with irony.

"Did you collaborate with Snape? Did you allow them to kidnap you, for the sake of old days?" Harry questioned staring deeply into her eyes, looking almost evil.

"No, and no and NO!" she shouted.

"Sorry, we shall continue this tomorrow. For the moment, I am going to see how one of my best friends is taking losing her mother and how the host family, and indeed the groom, are taking their own loss. Good night!"


Harry, after leaving his aunt, proceeded towards the kitchen. Remus and Molly were so deep in conversation that they didn't notice him.

"This time I will kill. I am no longer standing by Dumbledore's nonsense that if we use Unforgivables we would be as bad as them. My beautiful NEW DAUGHTER and her baby, MY FIRST GRANDCHILD! She doesn't know what she's done YET!" Mrs Weasley yelled.

"No, Molly, she doesn't," replied Lupin sounding either too tired or too void of emotion. We suspected something and protected the Burrow, as you well know. Now, had we allowed Harry to go there, they could have probably got him. That's what they wanted. That's probably why they went so mad killing everyone," muttered Remus "because they didn't get Harry!"

"Well," Harry interrupted, "they can bloody well have me and stop all these killings. NO MORE! I'M GIVING MYSELF UP TO THEM!" he shouted with great determination.

"DON'T BE A FOOL. If you do, they've won!" shouted Ginny who had come into the kitchen looking for him, as she had sensed that he was bound to be blaming himself yet again.

"You rather everyone else dies? Is this it? As long as they don't kill me, everyone else can die?" exploded Harry full of guilt.

Ginny threw at him a very hard look, which Harry truly resented.

Chapter 7: Aftermath
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Thanks so much to Hedwig1175 for the great chapter image

"This is not the time for falling out. Don't you think?" Ron spat at Harry and Ginny. The two of them glanced at one another with a rather guilty and sombre look.

Ginny had poured a couple of drops of a calming potion into Mr. Granger's cup of tea, who was now sitting at the kitchen table completely lost in thought. Bill, who seemed physically unscathed, was clutching Fleur's inanimate body with an expression capable of frightening Greyback. Molly Weasley just couldn't stop crying. Tonks had several injuries, but none of them looked too serious. Hagrid's right leg was bleeding heavily. Moody appeared to be uninjured. McGonagall however, had been badly hit and, although she might survive, there were serious fears as to her full recovery. They had succeeded at rescuing Petunia, but at a terrible cost and hadn't managed to catch Bellatrix Lestrange, or Snape for that matter.

Both Petunia and Hermione thought that Severus had acted strangely, almost as if it had all been a play. All they seemed to have wanted was Potter and when he didn't arrive, they let the bait go. Or had it been just Snape who was willing to let the hostage and Hermione get away? Harry couldn't make any sense out of that. "Remus, can I talk to you, privately?" Harry requested.

"Excuse us," Lupin apologised to the others, frowning with concern. They went upstairs to one of the unoccupied rooms.

As soon as they entered it and the door was shut, Harry rounded on his former professor, firing questions at him in an impatient manner. "What do you know about my mum and Snape? And my Aunt Petunia? Did you know her? I mean, when you were young?"

Remus couldn't figure out why this was so important all of a sudden. "No, I didn't. Snape and your mother were friends. She was very kind and I think she took pity on him, what with all the banter he got from us, well, from Sirius and your dad mainly," Lupin said reminiscing.

"My aunt said that she, Petunia Dursley, went out with him! Were they an item?"

Lupin was startled by this revelation. "I honestly don't know, Harry, but it seems very far fetched. They don't look to me particularly suited, don't you think?"

"Certainly not, but why would she've said that to me otherwise? Also, she is defending him, even after he and his cronies kidnapped her!" 

"I truly don't know. Snape has always been difficult to read. But he killed Dumbledore, there is no doubt about that. He cannot be on our side. Why he may have let them escape, supposing that is what he did, I really, really don't know," muttered Remus almost to himself. "You said Dumbledore pled to him, when, when..."

"Yes, desperately. I would never have expected that. He never gave me the impression that he was afraid of death!''

"Maybe it wasn't just death he was frightened of. You said he had been weakened but you won't tell us in which way or by what. There may be the clue there, Harry," Remus tried to persuade him.

"It was something he'd drunk... I think I can tell you that," Harry felt safe to disclose.

Remus felt a small sense of elation at finally learning something about what had gone on between Dumbledore and Harry, so he pressed on for answers. "What was it? And, how had he come to drink it?"

The images from that night were always at the forefront of Harry's mind these days.   He sighed.  "It was a very bright green substance that could not be penetrated unless it was drunk. But I can't tell you anymore."

"Green?" asked Lupin surprised. "I will look into that. You mean like a barrier?"

"I suppose. But, look, I can't ... I have explained..."

Remus let this new information stew in his mind as he was reminded of something else. "You also said that he had trusted Snape until virtually the moment of his death, that he sent out for him and for no one else?"

"Yes. But, I don't see where you are heading," said Harry looking confused.

"Could he have been pleading to be killed? But no," Lupin reflected. "He would not have allowed for anyone to become a killer on his account, he would have never..."

Harry snapped his fingers thinking about something he had almost forgotten. "Also, Snape had made the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa. I overheard them talking, him and Malfoy."

"Harry!" Remus looked at him with a severe expression, but then, stopped dead on his tracks. He thought that Harry ought to have told someone about this straight away, but to tell him so now, would only make him feel responsible for the Headmaster's death. He couldn't do that to the boy just for the sake of hindsight. "What was the Vow about? Did you hear it?" 

"Yes. It was about protecting Malfoy, which of course, he did in the end. He murdered Dumbledore out of cowardice, can't you see? He was not prepared to sacrifice his own life. He also told Voldemort about the prophecy. Also, as I told you once before he indirectly killed my parents!" Harry was now getting rather overexcited, his heart was beating fast.

"Umm, it would seem that way. Let me sleep on this, Harry. I think we are missing part of the picture."

But Harry wasn't satisfied yet, he still had questions that he wanted answered. "And what about my aunt? How can I ever return there? Did I tell you about how just a few days ago, she got me in the kitchen all on her own and tried to be my friend, after all these years? The fact that she was kidnapped would indicate that they knew that she now mattered to me, they knew that I would want to go to her rescue."

"It doesn't necessarily mean that they knew about the improvement in your relationship. They know you, Harry. They know you wouldn't want her in danger anyway, but, yes I see your point," conceded Remus.

"Couldn't she have been the one who told Snape? If they were close once, they could have been in touch all along. Perhaps, they planned the trap together. She could have been the traitor! I can't go back to them after this! Not for the protection, not for anything!"

"Now, calm down, Harry. It seems rather unlikely. What was she to gain by that? She may not love you but I doubt she wants to see you dead. Give it proper thought, don't do anything hasty." 

"Yeah ..." Harry replied in auto-pilot, feeling again that he was being treated like a naughty child.

After that conversation, Harry decided he needed some rest and went to lay in the bed next to Ron's trying to clear his thoughts, to empty his mind. There was a knock on the window. He was alone in the room. He saw an owl outside and let it in. It was a small, dark bird that he didn't recognise. The small piece of parchment he had carried seemed to be blank. Hermione might have been able to shed some light on it but he didn't think it was wise to ask her now, given the circumstances. By the time Harry tried to look at the owl again, the bird had flown away.

Harry opened the bedroom door and stood at the landing and called :"Ron, Ron!"

"Yes, Harry," answered Ron looking completely worn out.

"Come here, please," Harry cried. Hermione followed them. "You go and get some rest, Hermione, you have gone through enough..." 

Hermione gave her friend a small smile in appreciation. "Don't worry about me, Harry. Nothing is going to bring them back and the sooner we get the work done, the sooner it can all be stopped!" she said with great determination. Then her eyes landed on the blank parchment still clutched in Harry's grip. "What is it?"

"Invisible ink!" replied Ron "I think the twins sell that! They will know how to read it!"

"Careful, Ron, we don't know what the message contains. We cannot just let anyone see it, not even your brothers. I seem to vaguely remember something like this but I can't recall the spell," muttered Harry forcing himself to think.

"I can't either," admitted Ron defeated.

Hermione's eyebrows drew together in deep thought for a moment as she tried to rack her brain for the spell. "I think I know, although I am not too sure. Aparecio!"

Letters started forming but this wasn't anyone's handwriting, it was more as it had been typed, like in a Muggle machine or something. The message simply read:

"Dear Boy,

Snape knows about the Horcruxes and, if he is indeed working for the Dark Lord, well, be very, very careful!" 

It was unsigned.

They all opened their eyes widely in complete disbelief. Another mystery and another threat. As if deciphering RAB's message and his identity wasn't enough! 

"Well, someone seems to want to help you, Harry," volunteered Ron with a puzzled expression.

Harry wasn't optimistic though when he responded, "Or to warn me not to go looking for them."

"Let's think this through," said Hermione trying to think methodically. "Who do we know for a fact that knows about the Horcruxes?"

"Obviously Slughorn," contributed Ron.

"Obviously," admitted Harry. "But he is not supposed to remember that night..."

"What about Hagrid? He was there when Slughorn told you, wasn't he?" enquired Hermione, going through every possibility in a systematic manner.

Harry shook his head. "He didn't tell me, if you remember. He just gave me the memory. And, anyway, this message is not in Hagrid's style. Dumbledore, who is dead... The portraits…" Harry started reciting. Ron frowned at Harry slightly disapprovingly, thinking that Harry was either having a laugh or was beginning to lose his grip. "Don't look at me like that! All the former Headmasters looked shocked when they heard about the things!" he continued.

"Harry, the portraits cannot send messages," said Hermione categorically.

"But they can talk to people. McGonagall? Is this her little way of telling me that I may as well confide in her, that she knows anyway?" Harry wondered aloud.

"Could have been but, again, Harry, I think she would have been more direct. Don't you?" commented Ron. "And, she is not currently at her best, is she?"

Hermione expanded on Ron's thought as she said, "Also, she would have been more careful, she would not have mentioned the actual word."

"I think you're right," conceded Harry

"Anyway," continued Hermione "If Slughorn and Dumbledore knew about their existence, most of the teachers probably do as well and now that one of them has defected, well, it could be any one of the other professors. Just reminding you to be careful."

"Lupin?" thought Harry. But, again, he could have been more direct. "I've just had a private talk with him but, maybe he thought I would take more notice of a secret message."

"Slughorn? After all, he gave you the memory then, but maybe he didn't know who else knew and now he does," theorised Ron.

"It is a possibility," admitted Harry "but I think he is too much of a coward to get involved."

Hermione sighed as she sat down on the bed. "That could be why the message is not signed, so that it cannot be attributed to anyone if intercepted."

"Malfoy? Maybe he's regretting what he did," said Ron uncharacteristically.

"Snape himself? If he is still somewhat only pretending to work for the Dark Lord, as a warning, saying that You-Know-Who may use Legilimency on him or something. Maybe he is remorseful," she offered.

"Hermione, sorry to have to say this but, well since... the wedding... both you and my aunt have gone soft on the bastard. You both seem to believe that he may still be good!"

"Well, he didn't seem to want to harm us, he acted rather oddly. I was there!" argued Hermione once again.

"But your mum is dead because of him, can you not see that? If he wasn't on the Death Eater's side, what was he doing there? I bet he was in command!" Harry said vehemently.

"I don't know, something somehow just doesn't click," continued Hermione.

"Well," said Ron, "even if it is him, it doesn't mean he is not a Death Eater. He could have sent this just to frighten Harry."

The possibilities seemed endless. Whoever had sent the note obviously knew not only of the existence of the damned things but was also aware of the fact that Harry was seeking them. If Snape knew that too, then Voldemort would just have to carry on creating replacements, thought Harry miserably.

"What if it was Dumbledore himself who told Snape?" Harry thought aloud.

"Maybe he just worked it out when he saw his blackened hand," commented Ron, just as gloomily.

"I'm afraid, Harry, this seems fairly likely," added Hermione. "Our only hope now is that Snape isn't really a Death Eater."

"You may as well wish for the moon to turn into a cheese, Hermione!" retorted Harry, void of all hope.

After another half an hour or so of mumbling and debating, the trio decided to go downstairs and see if they could give comfort to anyone. Harry, however, felt again that he needed to be alone for a while. Too much was happening too fast and none of it was good.

Half an hour or so later, Ginny, full of guilt about having fallen out with Harry yet again, decided to go and fetch him to see if they could make up. She found Ron's room empty. However, she stumbled upon the blank piece of parchment which her friends, overwhelmed by low spirits, had forgotten to hide.

"What on Earth!" she wondered aloud. She realised straight away that it must be written with invisible ink and proceeded to cast the spell that, unlike her friends, she remembered by heart. Having been brought up with Fred and George did have some advantages. After reading the words, Ginny became very worried for her friends and brother and set out to find them. She raced down the stairs and searched the bottom floor. When she didn't see any of them, she went outside and caught sight of Harry sitting by himself, looking as if he was dreaming. "Harry!"

"Ginny? He seemed surprised to see her. "I'm sorry about earlier on," he said to her softly, thinking they all could do with a hug.

"Me too, Harry. Now, what on Merlin's name are Horcruxes?" she enquired without even lowering her voice.

Harry gave her a most startled look and signalled for her to be quiet, his bright green eyes piercing her alert hazel ones. "How the hell?"

"You forgot to take this with you," she responded a little superiorly, handing the blank parchment back to Harry.

How could he have been so stupid! And Ron and Hermione! He could hardly believe they had made such a mistake!

"Has this anything to do with whatever it is that only the three of you know about?"

"I better tell you everything, Ginny" said Harry admitting defeat, "but please, promise on your life that you will not tell anyone, anyone at all. I think Dumbledore died because of this," he said rather tensely.

"I promise, Harry," and she laid her hands on top of his.

"Bring Ron and Hermione too. We will go upstairs and find somewhere quiet. This, Ginny, is so extremely important that it affects the whole future of our world. I think it's best if we tell you together. And we better use the Muffliatto charm."

Chapter 8: Revelations
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Lord Voldemort was observing his prey sitting by the fire, casually stroking Nagini's scaly skin, his red eyes glowing with venom.

"Crucio!" said a chilling, penetrating voice.

A dark cloaked figure lay on the hard stone floor contorted with pain. He tried not to scream, not to beg.

"Enough for the moment. Now," Riddle said slowly "it is time I get some answers."

Severus Snape was unable to stand. Peter Pettigrew smirked down at him. It felt good to see the pain in someone else's eyes.

Bellatrix was shouting at the top of her voice, "Master, my Lord. It is all HIS fault, HE let them escape! I killed two of them, Master, please do not harm me. He deserves the punishment. He's betrayed you, my Lord!"

"Bella, get up! I will decide that," commanded Voldemort.

"As you wish, Master," she accepted, and proceeded to kiss his robes. There was no sign of sarcasm in her voice this time. She was not so arrogant in front of the Dark Lord.

"Get out of my sight, you useless creature," Voldemort ordered her.

"But, my Lord, I killed that Muggle and the French girl, have mercy!"

"You killed a Muggle? An untrained, defenceless Muggle? What skill is in that?  Am I supposed to be impressed?" Voldemort mocked. "I"ll tell you what, Bella, bring me your nephew and I may spare you."

"But, I don’t know where he is, I swear!"

"That isn’t my problem, Lestrange, I believe it's your problem" remarked Lord Voldemort leering at her. "And, now, Professor," he said mockingly, pausing to watch if  true fear showed in Severus' eyes, "once again, you have failed to bring me Potter!"

"He wasn’t there, Master, most out of character," Snape replied still riddled with pain.

"But this was your idea, Snape. Your idea and again, you come back empty handed."

"He is too well protected, my Lord."

"Yes, by YOU!" yelled Bellatrix.

"This isn't the playground, Bella" said Voldermort "I, and only I, impart justice here!" "You two together will go and fetch me Draco and Narcissa. If he can be of any use to me at all, he can prove himself by killing his mother, to show that he is brave and at my command. If he can't, Severus, you will have to do a repeat of your previous performance; you will kill her yourself. As for the Malfoy boy, if he fails again, I will take care of him," concluded the Dark Lord.

"So," protested Ron, "my little sister is now in on this too, against Dumbledore's wishes!"

"It was your own stupidity that allowed this to happen!" snapped Ginny.

"We mustn't make mistakes like this again," said Harry looking towards Ron and Hermione with real concern. "It's nothing against you, Ginny, but it could have been found by someone else, anyone else..."

They all nodded in agreement.

Ginny was mesmerised and horrified at the same time by the story she'd just heard and kept asking questions, trying to piece together all the information.

"So, Tom already knows the diary was destroyed and possibly the ring. I wonder..." Ginny thought aloud.

"You mean, he might have made some more?" asked Hermione dismayed.

"It is possible," admitted Harry, who had himself been wondering the same thing a little while back. "But then, he likes to use significant deaths to make the Horcruxes. He would very much like mine, since he didn't manage it the first time round."

"Yes," added Hermione as if struck with a sudden realisation, "that would explain why he won't allow his Death Eaters to kill you, why he has to do it personally..."

"So, I haven't thought about it like this," started Ron, "but maybe You-Know-Who doesn't know we are after the Horcurxes, yet. Maybe Snape only knows about Dumbledore trying to hunt them down."

"Ron, you’re a genius!" Hermione went and kissed him on the cheek.

"Thanks, Mione," said Ron taken aback. "But, why?"

"Don’t you see? That is, at least, one of the reasons why Dumbledore allowed himself to be killed!" Hermione begun to explain.

"You're barking! Sorry, Hermione," apologised Harry feeling a little guilty, he hadn't meant to insult her. "But, he didn't allow it, he was disarmed!" 

"I'm not barking, Harry" responded Hermione annoyed. "Think about it this way. Let's assume that Voldemort knew Dumbledore had found out about the Horcruxes. He probably knew about his injured hand. If Dumbledore was dead and Voldermort didn't know about anyone else being on the hunt, he would relax on the assumption that his bits of soul were still well protected, after Dumbledore's death. That would give you an advantage, it could buy you some time."

"I see what you mean but I honestly don't think that he had planned to die," Harry replied feeling frankly fed up with that line of discussion.

"But you said he told Draco that he knew he had been trying to kill him all year, and presumably had done nothing to stop him," retorted Hermione.

"This is Dumbledore we are talking about though," contributed Ron, "he knew Malfoy couldn't do the job."

"Hermione, why are you so determined to prove Snape's innocence?” asked Harry once again.

"Because it makes sense, Harry. I know you are hurt but sometimes feelings won't allow us to see the bigger picture."

"And you can see the “bigger picture” I take it?" asked Harry at the end of his tether.

"Come on, guys, no more arguments please," interceded Ginny. "We must stick together, it's the only way!"

"Anyway," decided Harry, "this idea of yours Hermione, has just made up my mind. We mustn't tell anyone, and I mean anyone about the Horcruxes. If there is any truth in this theory, that Dumbledore died to buy me time, then as far as I'm concerned, the topic is closed. After all, there have been traitors in the Order before!"

"Yeah, Harry, but it wouldn't be my mum or Lupin, or…" said Ron a little defensively.

"Surely not, but they could tell someone else, the circle could just get bigger and bigger. It's far too risky. We keep it to ourselves!" Harry concluded assuming the leader's role.

There was another problem, though, he, stupid Harry had let the world at large know that he was with Dumbledore at the Astronomy Tower which, in a way, proved that he had been on an errand with him immediately before. He had acted impulsively in his eagerness to show Snape's true colours. If Hermione was right, Dumbledore would have died for nothing and that would have been his fault, his bloody fault!


The days had passed. The funerals had come and gone. A feeling of semi-normality had been reinstated. Still, the scars were profound and difficult to heal.

Hermione had gone back home to her father, who surely needed her now, although she was still very much in touch and very much obsessed with making some progress. Harry and Ron needed her too. It just was not possible to be in two places at once, especially after all the time-turners got destroyed at the Ministry during their fifth year at Hogwarts.

Professor McGonagall was still in a critical condition. Physically, there had been some improvement but her mind, well, her mind wasn't really all there. She had difficulty remembering even who people were. There had been thoughts of taking her to St Mungo's but the majority had opposed the idea, as the hospital appeared now to have been taken over completely by the Ministry, and not many trusted the likes of Dolores Umbridge. Poppy Pomfrey, the School Nurse, was tending to her, mainly aided by Molly Weasley. It was now more and more doubtful that the school would open at the beginning of term.

Bill, not wanting to allow himself time to think, to dwell on what couldn't be changed, had resumed his work at Gringotts and was staying at the twins' flat in London. He found that Molly's constant tears were making him feel worse.

Petunia had gone back to her Muggle home long ago. Harry hadn't gone with her. He didn't trust her now and he had made his suspicions open and clear. Perhaps he was being unfair, maybe he was behaving recklessly regarding the protection but he had made his stance clear and had remained firm. In any case, he would be of age in a mere few days. That was both an exciting and a daunting prospect. This time, he would be completely on his own; he would really have to stand on his own two feet.

Harry could hear voices arguing downstairs, voices coming from the kitchen. He could have done with the extendable ears that the twins had so successfully marketed. He could hear his own name. They were talking about him! Whatever it was that they were discussing, Molly Weasley was dead against the motion. He had always been impatient and he thought that, whatever they were saying about him, they could tell him to his face. He made a signal to Ron and both descended downstairs but didn't storm in straight away. They listened a bit more.

"He'll be of age then, Molly" argued Remus Lupin." You can't give him any protection now. The time is up. He'll have to face his Destiny one way or another, he may as well join!"

"If he really is the Chosen One, he needs to be a member. Kid or no kid, he has done things no-one else has, like surviving encounters with You-Know-Who on so many occasions," contributed Mr. Weasley.

"Arthur, please, you sound just like Sirius. Also, if we let him in, Ron, Hermione and all the other children, Longbottom etc, will claim they have the same right," protested Mrs. Weasley.

"Molly, they have all fought Death Eaters and they've done it bravely. We could do with more members," reasoned Alastor Moody.

"Harry, Ron?" exclaimed several members of the Order, realising that they have overheard them talking about them. Molly blushed.

"I would appreciate if you didn't talk about me behind my back," started Harry suppressing a smile, as in truth, he was more amused than angry.

"It's nothing like that," defended Mrs. Weasley, "we all have your best interest at heart".

"The protection is gone, Molly, I relinquished that by staying here. Can't you see? I don't know why, well, I know why really, “ Harry pronounced this last phrase very quietly. “He chose me when I was one, but now I must pursue what and whom I need to pursue".

He is a natural leader, thought Lupin. He had somehow acquired the ability to command, to be listened to, he might not be a military strategist but he definitely had a sense of purpose.

"I'm in favour of you joining, Harry," he finally said aloud decisively.

"So am I," Mr. Weasley joined him.

"And me," added Mad-Eye. "But it's not going to be a bed of roses, kid. It's going to be bloody tough!"

"I expect so, Alastor," was Harry's reply. He felt somewhat victorious.

"So, this is all settled then," closed up Tonks. "We'll have to clear it at our next meeting but I think this is now a mere technicality. Harry, if we ask you to join, what will be your answer?"

"What do you all think? But I'm not joining without Ron and Hermione," he said very determined.

"Very loyal of you, Harry, but," interrupted Arthur.

"You can't repay me like this, Harry," protested Molly with a murderous glare. "I have looked after you, and you are paying me back by endangering my child!"

"All your other sons are already members, Mum," said Ron speaking for the first time since the start of this debate.

"He has a point, Molly," conceded the others.

"Ok, let's negotiate," said Moody with a sense of opportunity. Let's say we let you and your friends join, would you tell us what you were doing with Dumbledore...?"

"I'm sorry. That isn't negotiable. I don't want to join, if that is the price!" and with these last words, Harry stormed up stairs and made a motion for Ron to follow him.

Draco Malfoy's memory charm on Father McKenna seemed to have worked even better than expected. He seemed to be under the distinct impression that Tim had been sent to him by a colleague from a Parish in Kent as a trainee, an assistant or something of that kind. In addition to having erased from the priest's memory what he had revealed to him about  himself and the magical world, Draco's attempt at planting the assistant notion in his head had also been successful.

Draco would have normally found his present status quo intolerable, however he was left on his own for lengthy periods during the day with plenty of theological books to occupy his mind. There was, of course, a method in the madness. He was desperate enough to try anything and he had the feeling that what he called Muggle magic, whatever it had been that Snape had hinted at, was his only hope of fooling the Dark Lord. The main problem was that most of those books were rather cryptic and one was pushed to distinguish fact from metaphor. In addition, when magic was described, there was absolutely no mention as to the means used in order to achieve it. God was supposed to be behind it, but how? The one curious thing was Jesus' idea of “offering your enemy the other cheek” like loving your enemy. This sounded most absurd, yet again, Lily Potter's love for her son was reputed as having been the reason for Voldermort's demise and Harry's survival. Some very odd pattern appeared to be emerging.

He was trying not to open his heart to the Priest in the fashion he had done the night they had met. It had been a cathartic experience but he didn't have the heart to have to modify the guy's memory on a daily basis. He concluded that it was far simpler to pretend to be a Muggle and let matters be.

Again, he thought about his mother, about his father, about Pansy Parkinson...Also, what was his aunt Bella doing? Was she still the Dark Lord's most faithful or would she be prepared to help him out? He didn't dare guess.

In the evenings, he and Father McKenna would sit at the table, sometimes until late, over a pot of coffee or the odd can of beer. Draco would eagerly ask questions relating to the Bible or to other more uncommon works, possessions, exorcisms and the like. Father Sean thought this a bit strange but put it down to the youngster having watched too many Hollywood movies. They were getting on well but Draco knew it was only a matter of time. The forty days were very nearly up!

One morning, the Muggle postman arrived with a letter for him, addressed to his false name. This was certainly peculiar as he hoped nobody knew of his whereabouts, also in the Muggle post! But, of course, he remembered, he had a week or so before, replied to Snape's owl and had told him the name he was using. He guessed that his former teacher was using the Muggle post for safety reasons.

He opened the envelope with utter trepidation. It was unsigned, but he knew it to be from Severus Snape. The news wasn't good. He was asked not to leave his present address under any circumstances, not to try to play the hero come what may, to keep his head low and wait for further instructions. He was also told not to trust Bellatrix and was reminded that the Dark Lord could find his Death Eaters relatively easily because of the Dark Mark on their arms. He must stay attached to the Church for the time being and was reassured that the writer was making every effort to sort out something more long-term.

"A letter from a friend," he said casually, putting it away into the bottom of his pocket.

As soon as the Priest left, the communication was quickly set on fire.


Chapter 9: Sweet Seventeen
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It was three minutes to midnight. Harry hadn't reminded anybody about his approaching birthday as he knew they were all still grieving and hadn't wanted them to make a fuss. It wasn't a big deal anyway; during his childhood he had grown well accustomed to not receiving presents or having a party thrown for him. This would be no different. But this birthday was significant, it was symbolic. He would now be of age; he would be able to perform magic! That sounded great but another thought also crossed his mind. The protection would definitely be gone. He had, somehow, convinced himself that, by staying at the Burrow, it had ended a while back but, thinking about it, he hadn't known for sure. It could still be that it would lapse about now, in a matter of minutes, two minutes, he counted. Instinctively, he reached out for his wand, just in case, and adjusted his glasses.

"BOOM!" a loud exploding noise startled him and caused him to bang his head against the bedside table. That woke Ron up too, who had originally only pretended to go to sleep but had unwittingly managed it for real. Harry's head was aching with the impact and the room started spinning around him.

"Not you two!" he shouted. "You just made me think it was Death Eaters or something, you right pair of idiots!"

"Sorry, Harry. Didn't mean to scare you," apologised George. "It was just a smoke bomb!" It must have been that indeed because the room was now completely enveloped in a dark purple mist. Voices started singing Happy Birthday.

"You remembered?" said Harry, feeling rather touched after all.

"Well, of course," said Fred. "And I bet Ginny did too!" And there she was, beside what appeared to be a mountain of objects wrapped in gift paper.

Ginny blushed at Harry's gaze. She waved her hand over the pile of presents and said, "This is from everybody, Harry, not just from me."

"Shall I open them now?" asked Harry a little lost for words.

"Unless you want to stand there like a prat looking at the wrapping papers," replied Ron matter-of-factly.

The first packet contained what it appeared to be a life-time supply of "edible Death Eaters". Harry smiled; the twins' black sense of humour didn't cease to amaze him. They were made of some sort of jelly but they burst in your mouth forming smoke replicas of the Dark Mark. Mrs. Weasley had banned the things from day number one, which added to the fun. She didn't even allow them to sell them in the shop. "This is bound to end up badly!" she had warned.

"Very amusing, thanks, you two."

Another one from the twins was a self-replenishing bottle of Firewhisky. In addition, there was a potion bottle filled with a liquid that was either lilac or pink, Harry couldn't really decide, but it came with the message: "To sweeten up our little sister when the need arises". Both Harry and Ginny went terribly red and held down their gaze. Something else yet that Mrs. Weasley was sure not to approve of. That was why they had suggested Harry opened their presents first, before the others joined in.

"Here's one from Hermione," said Ginny "she'll be here tomorrow.”

Harry's emerald green eyes opened wide in surprise and confusion. "Bloody hell!"

"What is it, mate?" asked Ron intrigued.

"Vouchers for driving lessons, I mean, "Muggle"...! She's written a note saying they'll be useful next year when we have to venture into the great wide world. She's taking some too."

"Dad would love that!" agreed the Weasley siblings.

"I guess she is trying to get us to live as Muggles, part of some plan?" asked Harry, looking towards Ron.

"If you are going to make all that noise, you may as well come downstairs. All of you, to the kitchen!" ordered Mrs. Weasley, shouting from downstairs. "Happy birthday, Harry!" she said, hugging him very tightly. Thankfully she seemed to have forgiven him for trying to get Ron into the Order. She had baked a huge, beautifully decorated cake featuring a Quidditch pitch with moving players and all the trimmings.

"This is really great, Molly, I never expected..." said Harry, sincerely impressed. He blew out the candles before Molly cut the cake. Everyone got a piece and commented on how delicious it was. Everything was washed down with a nice cup of hot tea and then Molly ordered them back to bed.

"We'll have the proper celebration tomorrow, Harry. It's far too late now. That was always the idea, only, Fred and George, of course, have woken up the whole house!" complained Mrs. Weasley. 

They did as they were told or, rather, they pretended to, but, this time they made sure they had charmed the room so that no noise could be heard.

"Come on, Harry, don't say you're not curious," Ron said, prodding Harry and pointing at the unopened presents.

"Well, of course I'm curious!" he replied with a very big grin.

"Blimey, this one is from Trelawney!" exclaimed Ron, a bit perplexed.

Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation despite the fact that he was intrigued about what his Divination professor could have possibly sent him. Nevertheless he unenthusiastically remarked, "Don't tell me, she's been predicting my agonising death again? "He grabbed the package from Ron's hand, briefly noted the crystal ball wrapping paper and ripped it open. "Some runes, a deck of Tarot cards, let's see... I told you, a personalised astrological projection! Sorry, guys, but I'm not in the mood for doom and gloom right now," explained Harry moving on to the next present. "This is from Luna, of course, a yearly subscription to the Quibbler."

"Who would have guessed!" added Ron, being a little uncharitable to the girl.

A Remembrall and a Mimbulus Mimbletonia from Neville. “He says these items may aid me in my quest, whatever my quest may be," read Harry. Harry remembered how it had been him, in fact, who had rescued Neville's Remembrall from Malfoy in their fist year.

"This one is from me," announced Ron timidly. "I don't think it's much..." It looked like an antique elvin carved wooden box. "Come on, put something in it!" added Ron.

"Something like what?" asked Harry, a bit confused.

"Anything, just anything," replied Ron excited.

"Wow," shouted all of them in unison as Harry placed the deck of Tarot cards from Trelawney in it. They had become invisible!  Also they objects automatically reduced in size to fit into the box.

"Honestly, Ron, how could you say it wasn't much! This is brilliant!" exclaimed Harry, patting his friend on the back.

There were quite a few more bits and bobs, home-baked cakes from Hagrid, books on DADA from Tonks and Lupin and the customary hand-knitted jumper from Molly Weasley. This one was actually quite inconspicuous and had a note that read "Since I can see that I can't prevent you from going wherever you think that you have to go, I hope this will keep you warm." Harry really smiled. She was kind of giving him permission then?

"This is from me, Harry," Ginny spoke in a quite serious tone. "I thought you could do with some. I've been brewing it for ages, well, since I think you saved our lives with it, well, you'll know when I'm talking about..."

"Bloody hell, sis," Fred couldn't contain his admiration. "You've done this all by yourself? Felix Felicis!" 

"Yes, if you must know," replied Ginny, with a smug expression. "And without the help of obscure books," she added, shooting a malicious look in Harry and Ron's direction.
"I can't believe it, Gin. I think this deserves a big kiss!" Harry was in awe.

"Hey, careful with our little sister, or you will have us to contend with," teased the twins. Harry and Ginny ignored them. Ron gave them a slightly disapproving look and took his gaze elsewhere.

"All right, Harry. Did you not think there would be something more from us?" asked George, smiling naughtily.

"Umm, no, why?" answered Harry unassumingly.

"To the person who made our dream a reality!" announced Fred, bowing to Harry extremely theatrically.

"What, what is it?" enquired Harry, looking at a very small and dark looking bottle.

"This, my dear Chosen One," Harry pulled a face. He hated being referred to by that name. "This will allow you to feign your own death for up to 12 hours."

Ron became alarmed at hearing these words and instantly thought of what Hermione would have to say about this. "Has Hermione seen this? It looks bleeding dangerous! I take it that you've tested it on yourselves first?"

"Sorry, little bro. No, we got it in Knockturn Alley. Cost an arm and a leg, couldn't go wasting it! I think you need the whole dose, anyway, for it to do the trick. You will just have to trust it does what it's supposed to if its use becomes, well, necessary," said Fred, who was obviously accustomed to putting himself in the front line of fire.

"Wouldn't go using it as a joke, though," added George, with a little more wisdom.

"Well, thanks very much," said Harry, a little lost for words. "But I think we better find out more about this stuff before we, well, I think you know what I mean."

Harry slept unusually soundly. The morning had risen bright, hot and full of promise. Even Molly seemed to be in better spirits. Several owls arrived whilst they had breakfast. The first one was from Gringotts, inviting Harry to a meeting in connection with his inheritance, which he could now legally fully access. There were several more wishing Harry a Happy Birthday but the most exciting development was seeing Fawkes again. They all seemed pleasantly surprised but also a little sad. The phoenix carried two messages, one for Harry and one for Mrs. Weasley. They were almost identical and were written in what it appeared to be Dumbledore’s handwriting . 

It read:

By the time you receive this I will no longer be amongst you. Please, I would ask you not to be sad about my passing. As I did say before, death is only one more adventure, the greatest adventure. There are practicalities, however, that require your attention. I wish for you to be informed of the contents of my will. These will be disclosed at 6:00 pm today at Headquarters. Further instructions shall be given there.

I sincerely hope you are all well. Don’t lose faith. Evil shall not prevail forever.

Yours as ever,

Albus Dumbledore 

Harry’s message continued a little longer:

I trust that you are continuing with the work in which we were engaged together. Have faith in your abilities and your inner power but always remember that everything you do, you do out of your own free will. No prophecy can ever be fulfilled unless one's actions make it happen. You still have a choice, Harry; you will always have a choice. I’m bequeathing an item to you which I hope will be useful. There is something else I need to give you. This is indeed very special and it is rightfully yours anyway. It will be given to you upon your coming of age, but be prudent, Harry, I have reason to believe it holds a very important clue but I do not think it wise for you to try to use it other than if you chose to confront Voldemort, and only at the very end. As always, I trust you will realise the importance of keeping this information strictly confidential, save for as previously arranged. I wish I could have been more helpful.

Yours, as always,

Albus Dumbledore 

Harry felt a very tight knot forming in his throat, also in his stomach. He had really struggled to contain the tears but was now beginning to give in. Molly Weasley had realised that Harry’s message seemed to have been longer than hers but hadn't wished to pry. She enveloped him in motherly embrace and told him that there was no shame in crying. “It’ll do you good, love. Let go, let it happen,” she encouraged him.

He threw his inhibitions to the wind and let his tears flow. Ron and Ginny patted him in the back and they found they were also beginning to weep themselves.

Molly announced they had planned an Order meeting at Grimmauld Place for that date in any case. Also, she commented on how they thought it was now sensible for Harry, actually for all of them, to move to Headquarters for a while, until they could ascertain what exactly would happen now that the blood protection had ended. He wasn’t particularly thrilled with the prospect but accepted that it was probably a necessary evil.

"We'll have the birthday party afterwards," concluded Mrs. Weasley, smiling at Harry.
He arrived at Gringotts, as requested. The Weasleys had not wished to come into the bank with him and waited instead at the Leaky Cauldron. Their excuse was that, surely, the goblins would want to talk to him in private. However, Harry was aware of how sensitive his friend Ron was to the topic of money, despite the fact that he had always made it clear he was more than willing to share his gold with them. Maybe, he thought, it was because of that. He knew in his heart of hearts that he was probably relatively well-off but was not quite prepared to learn exactly how damn rich. In fact, he was beginning to feel a little embarrassed, almost a bit guilty. After all, he hadn't started his working life yet. It didn't seem fitting to have all that much.

Tom, the bartender was really happy to have animated custom for a change. Mrs. Weasley and her youngest offspring found Hagrid sitting at the bar sipping a pint of mead with a vacant expression. The presence of the half-giant made Mrs. Weasley feel a little safer, which was not a bad thing.

"Come on, Hagrid, cheer up, mate!" said Ron. "It's Harry's birthday after all, try and be happy if just for one day!"

"Ah, yeah, 'course, 'Arry, where is 'e?" asked Hagrid absent-mindedly.

Molly leaned close to the large man as she whispered, "He's gone to Gringotts, about the inheritance."

" O' Course, o' course, 'e's now seventeen," realised the Hogwarts' teacher and gamekeeper.

"Hermione is joining us here in a little while," said Ginny.

"Bet he's worth a fortune, Mum, don't you reckon?" Ron asked nonchalantly.

"Ronald, this is none of our business," she replied very quietly giving him a sign to also lower his voice.

"He will be, Molly," agreed Hagrid. "The Potters were very rich and he'll get the whole Black estate too. 'e deserves it thou,” he paused. “Seventeen 'already! It seems almost yest'day that I took 'im from Godric 'ollow, wrapped in a tiny blanket..."

"Hagrid, please, don't go all sentimental on us!" ordered Ginny, who found situations like this rather hard to handle, especially since she found the idea of Harry as a little baby, bundled in a blanket, rather odd since she now viewed him in a rather different light. The thought gave her the giggles.

At that moment, Harry walked into the Leaky Cauldron. He spotted the group of red heads and Hagrid and walked over to them. "Hiya, everyone," saluted Harry, wearing a big smile. "What are you laughing at?" he asked Ginny. He looked at her completely puzzled as she continued to laugh. Harry found that he was soon joining in on her contagious laughter involuntarily and without really knowing why.

"It's nothing." Ginny suddenly couldn't control her giggles. The more she looked at him, the more she couldn't stop.

"Right," he said, giving up the idea of trying to figure out what was so funny. Instead he settled for giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, thrilled with the idea that he could now be himself around her once again.

“So, how did it go, dear?” asked Molly, changing the subject.

“Oh, that? Fine, fine, thanks.” He blushed quite strongly.

“No need to be embarrassed,” she said to him. “Did anything come as a surprise to you, really?”

“Molly, surprise is an understatement. I really had no idea of...of the amounts involved.” It was obvious that Harry wasn’t comfortable talking about financial matters either.

Mrs. Weasley lowered her voice some more as she continued. “But it was bound to be that way, Harry. The Potters are a very old, very well-to-do wizarding family and, as for the Blacks, well, what can I say, wealthier than the Malfoys, and of course, you are the sole...well ...of both.”

Harry didn’t know what to say. What could he really say? Oddly enough, he felt a bit inadequate. This newly acquired knowledge of the extent his wealth had somehow given him a feeling of “non-belonging”. He was one of the richest wizards in Britain and all he really wanted was just to be normal. This being said, the remark about him out-weighting the Malfoys made him secretly pleased.

Harry clapped his hands together excitedly as he called out, "Ok, folks. Birthday time! Who wants to come to Muggle London for a bite and a drink so that I can try out something I've just been given?"

"Harry, no way. It's risky enough in here, even with Hagrid!" protested Molly.

"Mrs. Weasley, this is like living under house arrest! We'll be fine. Anyway, since I'm the Chosen One, I can protect you all!” he teased feeling he was, just for once, on top of the world.

“Listen to me, young man!” Molly said full of rage.

“Now, relax, just for today... people only come of age once, please...” He looked at her in such a way that he disarmed her.

“You do have a knack for twisting Mum’s arm, don’t you?” observed Ginny a little jealous. Harry winked at her with complicity.

“Anyway, mate, what is that thing that you said you’ve been given”? asked Ron intrigued.

Harry pulled a small, thin, rectangular plastic object out of his pocket, which Ron eyed with interest. He flipped it over a couple of times as he spoke, “Ah, just a Muggle thing. I asked at Gringotts for Muggle money but I wanted a reasonable amount. They suggested it’d be better if I use a credit card. That’s what most Muggles use. They said it would raise less suspicion.”

“He’s right, Ron,” pointed out Hermione, who had just arrived, seemingly unnoticed. “Which one is it, can I have a look?” she asked with playful curiosity. “Goodness, Harry!” Hermione went pale. “How did you get this?”

“Why? I was given it at Gringotts. What, what’s wrong with it?”

Hermione's voice was full of astonishment as she looked from the credit card to Harry, “This is virtually unlimited! You aren’t, you can’t be...?”

“That wealthy?” Harry finished the sentence.

“Oh, Harry, I don’t know what to say. So, you have all your inheritance then? Maybe you should talk to someone about secure investments. I don’t know, Harry,” continued Hermione, still a little flabbergasted.

“Don’t make an issue of it, Mione,” Ron warned her lowering his voice. “He’s been going the shade of ripe tomatoes since he came back from the bank. I think he is also in shock.” Hermione understood.

After leaving Diagon Alley, they took a quick stroll through London’s River Bank and had lunch at one of the many fashionable bistros by the Thames. Ron and Ginny were trying to order cocktails behind their mother’s back. The waitress was debating whether to ask Ginny for proof of age ID but the sheer size of Hagrid blatantly put her off.

They had had a wonderful time. Harry felt happy for the first time since the wedding, They were all enjoying themselves. He felt as if he was giving something back to the people who mattered to him.

As they were heading back to the Leaky Cauldron Molly annouced, “Time to go back to Grimmauld Place!” There were many moans and groans from the gathered teenagers who still wanted to continue having a good time. But Molly was firm in her decision as she pointed a stern finger at Harry as she said, "And don’t you dare turn up tipsy for the reading of the will, birthday boy!”

Chapter 10: Legacy
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On their arrival at Grimmauld Place, they found most members of the Order already congregated there. As Molly had stated, there was to be a meeting as well. The unofficial offer initially made to Harry, Ron and Hermione for them to join had been somewhat thwarted by Harry's refusal to disclose his business with Dumbledore, thus; they hadn't been allowed to take part at that stage.

Harry was in a way glad about it. He had, more consciously than not, decided not to think about issues today. He had tried to push Dumbledore's will to the back of his mind. He would find out about it soon enough in any case and he could do with one day free of sadness and grief. But, what was it that belonged to him anyway that contained a very important clue? Once Dumbledore had secretly given him his father's invisibility cloak, could it be something again which had belonged to his parents? Was that why Dumbledore had said it belonged to him anyway? This was quite probable. "But the clue?" he muttered aloud.

"I know, Harry," said Hermione, who had now been told about the late Headmaster's note and seemed to be reading into Harry's thoughts. "It seems most puzzling, but don't work yourself up. You were having such a good time!" she added, sensing he needed to lighten up.

"Only because I refused to think. Today has been one day in my life when I can definitely say that I've been overloaded with information. It's almost like I've lived all this time not knowing very much. And, Dumbledore has included me in his will! But, why? He must have known I've been quite well provided for!" Harry ranted sounding irritated. 

The sense of fun and elation he had experienced earlier on was now completely gone. It's the house, he thought. Like the Dementors, it seemed to have the effect of sucking out his happiness. And they were going to have to be there for a while! He'd better get used to it.

"Harry, why are you so pissed off about being so rich? Is it because of the way you have come by the money?" Stupid question, thought Ron, wishing he had kept his mouth shut.

"I suspect it may have something to do with it!" bellowed Hermione, reproachfully.

Harry sighed at his two friends antics as he ran his fingers roughly through his messy black hair. "You two, please stop bickering. It's me. I'm acting strangely, I know. I should be happy about the money. Also, I'm not going to say that I'm now, all of a sudden, this miserable because my parents are dead; after all, I've had nearly sixteen years to dwell on that already. I don't know..." Harry tried to explain, shaking his head slightly, on the verge of getting annoyed with himself.

"But you miss them, don't you?" Hermione asked empathically. "And Sirius... and ... Dumbledore writing you into his will, well..."

"This is going to sound odd but I just wish I could be normal,” Harry added, in another attempt to get to the bottom of why he was feeling so gloomy.

"But you are normal," stated Ron not quite understanding. "What is it that's not normal about you anymore?"

"Anymore? Ron, I've not been normal since the day I found out I was a wizard! Well, there is the scar for one thing, and the prophecy, and the added complication of the Horcruxes! Where do you want me to start?" he retorted with a hint of sarcasm.

"Come on, Harry, you are being a bit selfish. Remember, we’ve all had loses, we all miss Dumbledore," snapped Ginny. "Look on the bright sight, for goodness sake! You are of age now, you can do what you like, you don't have to be stuck at school, like me, not knowing what you three are getting up to, not being able to help!" she added. "And there was me thinking you were trying to have some fun today!"

"You're right," replied Harry forcing himself to smile. "I think it's this bloody house, Sirius' mum's portrait, the whole damn place!"

Hermione reached out her hand and placed it on his shoulder in a comforting manner as she spoke softly, "That's because you have a gift to perceive its darkness, things that have gone on here, you can feel that. I think Sirius did too. That's why he was like that, why he hated being here..."

"Can't everybody feel it?" asked Harry, genuinely wondering.

"To a certain extent," replied Hermione. "But I honestly believe you can feel it more, you're sensitive and very talented," she complimented him. "Hopefully this sensitivity will help you, you know, to spot dark magic."

"Maybe," Harry let out a little smile, this time from his heart.


"Harry will not disclose and that's the end of it. Either he joins regardless or he doesn't," summarised Lupin.

"Veritaserum, give him Veritaserum!" said Mad-Eye in a temper.

"Merlin's beard, Alastor! Don't be such an animal!" protested Molly. "We can't force the kid like that." 

"Anyway, before we go any further a new leader has to be elected. I propose a ballot," suggested Arthur Weasley.

"Well, I'd have suggested Minerva myself but, since we don't know if she will ever completely recover..." explained Kingsley Shaklebolt.

Alastor has leadership skills, thought Arthur, but he can be, well, a little unpredictable and a little paranoid. Lupin would be an excellent choice but didn't dare propose him as he was sure being a werewolf was not in his favour and he didn't want people to express that thought too openly. Last thing poor Remus needed!

"I thin' it ou' ter be 'arry," Hagrid surprised everyone by saying. " 'e's supposed ter be the Chosen One."

"Rubeus, he's not even a member yet. He's only seventeen," pointed out Kingsley.

"Well, he's the least likely person to go defecting to You-Know-Who!" admitted Moody.

It was not an easy election, some members were too young, others too old, too peculiar, or not always available ... the list went on.

"Let's have a secret ballot, then, but let's wait until later because, who knows? Dumbledore may have said something in his will in this regard. Now, about Potter, are we going to ask him to join?" prompted Tonks. There was more or less unanimity. The same went for his friends. "Ok, let's get them in, then."

Remus Lupin brought Harry, Ron and Hermione to the drawing room in the first floor of the house. That was the same drawing room they had helped Mrs. Weasley clean a couple of years back. Harry remembered the sun faded, mouldy, green curtains, the worn carpet and the remainder of the awful tapestries, the ones that couldn't be removed as they had been fixed with a sticking charm. This time, there was a large oval table in the middle and the Order members were sitting around it. Tonks winked at Harry to make him feel relaxed. He returned the gesture by smiling back.

Harry got a bit worried when he saw it was Alastor who stood up to address them. He was fearing that, once again, he would ask to become privy to Dumbledore's secret. However, he was pleasantly surprised to find that that wasn't the case.

"And now, I must ask you this but, before you answer, before you swear the Oath." Harry and Ron glanced at each other inquisitively. "You must read it for yourselves and take the time to think about it." Moody paused. "It is not a commitment to be taken lightly and it constitutes a binding magical contract."

Another binding contract, thought Harry, but of course, it had to be that way. They couldn't risk people going over to the other side and so forth. Well, not that it had stopped Snape at all! 

They read the Oath and nodded in assent. They were ready to become full members.

"Now draw your wands!" instructed the former Auror.

The existing members rose from their seats and formed a circle. They stood with their wands pointing towards the centre.

"Ronald Billius Weasley. Repeat after me: I Ronald Billius Weasley solemnly promise, swear and declare,"

"I Ronald Billius Weasley..." repeated Ron, trying not to trip his tongue out of nerves.

"My allegiance to the principles and rules of the Order of the Phoenix,"

"My allegiance to the principles and rules of the Order of the Phoenix," Ron repeated again.

"I will not betray any secrets I may become privy to. I will face danger courageously and will use my best endeavours to fight the Dark Arts even if that means endangering my own life."

When he finished repeating this final verse there was a loud bellow of,  "Welcome, Ronald Weasley!" as they joined their wands in the centre of the circle. Sparkles in a wide variety of colors flew from the tips of everyone's wands as a bright white light shot out of Ron's.

"Now, Hermione!" proceeded Moody

"I, Hermione Jane Granger..."

"Finally, let's welcome a most awaited new member, Harry James Potter!" announced Alastor.

"I, Harry James Potter..."

Again, sparkles flew from the centre of the circle emitting a bright pure white light, just as it had for Ron and Hermione. Harry looked at this phenomenon, again awe stricken. This joining of wands seemed to always have an impact on him.

"And now everyone, let's have some refreshments before the will's contents are revealed," encouraged Molly Weasley. "Well, boys and girl, you've done it at last. I hope this isn't a mistake. You're still so young..."

"Leave it, Mum," said Ron, shaking his head thinking she would never, ever change.

When they exited the room and headed for the kitchen, Ginny reached out and grabbed Harry's hand, pulling him to the side. "What was it like?" she whispered to him.  As she was the youngest, she always felt left out.

"It wasn't that mysterious, to be honest," Harry answered. "Anyway, we'll propose you as soon as you are seventeen, it's not that long to go," he added reassuringly.


They had a little break, and then Remus announced the reading of Albus Dumbledore's will. The way in which this was done was, predictably, different from the Muggle procedure. Each beneficiary, alone, entered the drawing room in turn and, with the aid of the late Headmaster's Pensieve, viewed a memory which Dumbledore had recorded and which detailed his last message to the said person.

Mrs. Weasley came back into the kitchen touched and satisfied. "It's so thoughtful of him. What are we to do without him now?"

"Please, Mum, don't sob anymore!" pleaded Ron, who could never get used to his mother's display of emotions.

"He's left us quite a bit, Ron. I would never had thought he held us in such regard!" and again, her eyes filled with tears. “Well Aberforth, his brother, got most of his estate, but still, he seems to have thought of everyone,” she continued, her eyes slightly humid.

After her turn had ended, Hermione came back to join the group looking positively self satisfied. “Guess what he’s left me?”

“Books?” answered Ron, nearly joking.

“Yes, Ron, from his private collection and some notes and papers!" She could hardly contain her excitement. “But shush, it’s not supposed to be public knowledge.”

Hagrid came out as well, weeping out his tears and cleaning his nose with a large handkerchief.

Harry was beginning to get worried since he now had the distinct impression that he’d been left for last. He wasn’t wrong. He was dying to see Dumbledore again, even if he kept repeating to himself that this was just a memory and not the real wizard, but his heart was also filled with a strange sense of dread, his nerves were getting the better of him.

"Good evening, Harry.” 

“Good evening, Professor,” he replied, staring at the image as if trying to reach it.

Dumbledore smiled fondly at his former pupil. “Now, now, Harry, what did I tell you? You can’t bring back the dead. But anyhow, no doubt you are wondering why I left you for last.” 

Harry nodded at the image, his eyes open like saucers. This experience could be said to be somewhere between being in the Pensive and talking to a portrait. It wasn't like Tom's diary, though, you didn't lose control.

“An object has been used for this exercise that I wish to leave to you.”

“The Pensieve?” Harry tried to guess.

The late Headmaster's smile turned to one of delight and his eyes sparkled as he clapped his hands together joyfully. “Correct, my dear. As always, use it well. I thought you or your friends may find something in there that I may have overlooked and, in any event, it may come in handy whenever you need to relieve the burden of too many thoughts. You thought I was going to leave you money, didn’t you?” 

Harry blushed. “No, why would you?” he replied in a humble tone.

“Exactly. If you are of age when you see this, you will know by then that that is not at the top on your list of priorities. If you are not of age, well, you will have to wait and see.” 

“I am of age, sir, as from today.”

“Very well, Harry and happy birthday. Now, there is something else and, I cannot stress enough how important I think this item is. Since you say you are of age, I will tell you what it is. It is your mother’s wand. It is currently in Hagrid’s care. He retrieved it when he went to get you from the wreckage.” 

“Sir,” interrupted Harry, his heart pumping like mad. “Sir, what is the clue?”

Dumbledore's eyes took on that familiar twinkle as he spoke, “I think you have probably worked that out for yourself by now.” 

Priori Incantatem?” asked Harry timidly.

Dumbledore smiled again but remained completely silent. After a little pause he added, “All I can say to you is what I have already said in my earlier message. Do not attempt to use it until the task is almost complete.” The image smiled as if truly in a state of peace but with complicity. "And even then, only if you chose to fight Lord Voldemort," Dumbledore's image stated serenely.

“Also, Professor, Professor!” Harry was impatient. He needed answers. He may never get another chance. “Do you know how you died?”

“Yes, Harry, I do know how I died. But this is my will, not a conversation. I cannot discuss the details of my death with you or anyone. All the advice I can give you is the advice I already had for you before my passing: Don’t consume yourself with hatred and remember that you have power he knows not.” 

Harry stared at him, trying to penetrate the late Headmaster’s soul. “Another thing, sir,” Harry was now very apprehensive. “I have broken my promise.” Dumbledore’s image was expressionless but still tranquil. “I've told someone...” Harry said ashamed.

“You have?” 

“Ginny, Ginny Weasley, Professor. She found out for herself,” he tried to explain.

“Well, Harry, if she found out herself you have betrayed no one. Now, I must leave you, Harry. This is only an imprint, this is my will. I cannot answer your many questions and, again, I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful. Now, take care of yourself and don’t dwell too much. Good to see you.” 

“Good to see you too, sir.” 

Harry sat there for a considerable while after the image had vanished. Priori Incantatem, my mother’s wand ... Dumbledore knows how he died! All these thoughts were overwhelming him. Suddenly, with a stroke of geniality, he thought, That’s it, the Pensieve! And with a tap of his wand he collected all those thoughts. His troubles were now swirling into his newly acquired receptacle. Harry watched this take place and smiled in awe.

“He’s left me the Pensieve!” Harry announced to his friends and proceeded to join the party that had been thrown for him.


"Ok, just before we celebrate Harry's birthday," announced Lupin, "let's proceed to the ballot. New members should take part as well."

They went back the drawing room where they had been assembled earlier. In the centre of a table was a shiny object that reminded Harry of the Goblet of Fire. They all grabbed a piece of parchment and wrote down their choice of leader. They were instructed to tap it with their wands which caused the object to blast into red flames. Harry thought he could hear something like a phoenix song. Fawkes? But the phoenix itself was no where to be seen. After a few minutes, the flames extinguished themselves and one single piece of parchment floated above the goblet. Arthur Weasley extended his hand and picked it up: "Kingsley Shacklebolt!" he announced in a clear and decisive tone of voice. The nominated Auror appeared surprised by this result.

"Well, do you accept the position?" asked Moody, formalising the procedure.

"I guess I will have to, but still, if Minerva recovers I think we may wish to reconsider casting a vote again," said the tall black man, in a deep calm voice. His appearance was so different from Dumbledore's, he was much younger for one thing. This feels weird, thought Harry.

"Very well," concluded Arthur Weasley. "Now, the question of the Secret Keeper. The Fidelius Charm has still been effective despite Dumbledore's death, however, we are all in agreement that a new Secret Keeper should be found."

"Now, loyalty is the most important thing here, is it not?" reminded Mad-Eye Moody. "Who do we know that will not break a promise, reveal a secret no matter how approached?"

"Harry!" several voices shouted simultaneously.

"Potter!" addressed the newly appointed leader. "Would you accept this task?"

He was taken aback. He hadn't thought of this. He reflected a while. "I'd gladly bear the burden but I'd ask you to consider the fact that, since I am Voldemort's prime target, I'm the least likely member to survive. The Order could end up facing the same problem in no time at all, a dead Secret Keeper..."

"I love your optimism!" commented Ron ironically, in a low voice.

"Fellow members,” addressed Remus Lupin, “Are we prepared to cross that bridge if we get to it?" Remus asked, while giving Harry a diapproving look.

"Yes, I am", "And me", "Me too," various people replied.

All the eyes were now fixed on Harry.

"Ok, if you think I'm a safe bet, I'll do it."

"And with this being settled, let's enjoy ourselves!" said Mr. Weasley. "Happy birthday, Harry."

Chapter 11: A Belated Gift
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Thanks so, so much to Nevillesoulmate for the wonderful chapter image.

The twins, aided by Ginny, Ron and Hermione had decorated the old mansion with a tap of their wands in no time at all. The place was covered in exploding multi coloured balloons, ever falling confetti and self igniting candles that Harry was beginning to find a bit wearing having to keep on blowing.

"Come on, Harry, are we going to try some of that Firewhisky?" encouraged Ron.

"I dunno. I'm a bit worried really, after what happened at the wedding. I mean, I promised I wouldn't get drunk again till I've killed him. Of course, if he kills me, well that's that!" said Harry, not trying to tempt fate by assuming he would win.

"Well, you don't have to get wrecked, mate, just have a little bit." 

"Ok then." Harry poured some of the amber liquid into a glass and took a large gulp. " This is bloody strong, Ron!"

"It would be," pointed out Ginny. "It's from Fred and George!"

Hagrid ambled on over to the group of teenagers and clapped Harry on the back as he said, "Congratulations, 'arry, Secret Keeper! Great responsibility!"

"Ah, Hagrid, I've been wanting to see you," Harry announced. "Dumbledore told me in his will, about my mother's wand. Do you have it with you?" he asked enthusiastically.

"He's told yeh then!" Hagrid seemed surprised.

"Told me what exactly?" enquired Harry, beginning to think there was yet more to come.

"He wants ye to 'ave it then?"

"Well, yeah, you see, I'm of age now. I guess it belongs to me really." 

"Dumbledore thought it could be important, thou," mumbled Hagrid concerned.

"Yes, Hagrid, he's told me that much, but, is there something else?" Harry looked straight into Hagrid's eyes trying to disarm him, hoping that if there was anything else, Hagrid would let it accidentally slip.

"Well, I've not got it with me. It's in a vault at Gringotts, high security item. After what 'appened to Dumbledore, I just thought I keep it safe," Hagrid explained.

Harry frowned surprised "High security? For Merlin's beard, Hagrid, why? Why didn't the goblins give it to me today, when I went there to see them?"

"Yeh can't 'ave it with yeh. It could get stolen!"  

"Stolen? What would anybody want with my mother's wand?" 

"We think You-Know-Who's been looking for it," Hagrid whispered.

But of course, she was the person who had caused the curse to rebound, wasn't she? thought Harry. "Who is we? You mean Dumbledore? He never told me that," said Harry disappointed.

"Sensitive stuff, 'arry, sensitive stuff." 

"Hagrid, do you know something you're not letting on?"

"But I thou ye knew, 'arry."

Harry's tone became serious. "Hagrid, this is important, I may very well die if I don't know everything I need to. I guess it's connected with whatever it is that my mum did when, well... that night. Does Voldemort not know what that was?"

"I don't suppose anyone knows. Never 'appened before, 'arry, ye're the first one."

"Who lived, yeah." He had heard this many times. "Don't you understand, Hagrid? The sooner I get it, the sooner I'll be able to work out what spell she used! I need to find out, it's dead important!" he began to sound desperate.

"Ok, 'arry, I'll see want I can do," replied Hagrid, not at all convinced he was doing the right thing. 

Generally speaking, the party went quite well. People seemed to be enjoying themselves, which was a rare sight these days. Many would have got a little too tipsy had it not been for the large buffet Molly had prepared. By the time they went to bed, they were rather exhausted.

Well into the night, Harry was woken up, yet again, to the sound of a large popping noise. Not the twins again! he thought. This was becoming too much of a habit. It was beginning to be positively irritating. "Dobby?" said Harry surprised, forcing his eyes to open.

"Happy birthday, Harry Potter, sir!" the elf squeaked.

"Thank you, Dobby, but shush," commanded Harry, taking his finger to his lips. "People are sleeping." 

"Sorry to be late, Harry Potter, sir." Dobby looked as if he was about to beat himself up in a moment or two. "But Dobby had to get Harry Potter a present."

He smiled at the kindness of the tiny creature. "That's thoughtful of you," said Harry sincerely. Dobby was positively beaming as he passed over to Harry a sock knitted by himself, badly wrapped in a bright piece of parchment. "Thank you, Dobby," Harry said, at a loss for words since it was a sock. As he inspected the yarn fabric he noticed that it felt a little too heavy to be just a sock. Hang on, there is something inside, Harry realised. He tried to feel the object. It appeared to be solid, metallic in fact. "What is it, Dobby?" He didn't know why, but he just didn't want to touch it directly.

"Harry Potter will see, sir. Dobby retrieved it for him, sir. Bad Kreacher had stolen it, sir. Dobby has brought it back to his rightful owner."

Harry became slightly alarmed at the news that this object, whatever it might be, had at one point in time been in the possession of Kreacher. Knowing Kreacher, it could very well be dangerous. "What is it, Dobby? You must tell me," Harry ordered.

"It's a locket, Harry Potter." 

"I need you to listen to me, Dobby, this is very important." Harry waited for the elf to nod his head conveying that he understood and was listening. "I forbid you to tell anyone about having it or about having given it to me, all right, Dobby?"

Dobby bowed low, his large bat wing like ears brushing against Harry's bedspread. "As Harry Potter wishes, sir. Dobby likes to serve Harry Potter."

"Ok, Dobby, good night now and thank you." Harry didn't want to be ungrateful but couldn't wait to get rid of the elf. A locket indeed! Not that it was likely for Kreacher to have stumbled across the actual Horcrux, but still... "Ron, Ron, wake up, mate. This could be important!" whispered Harry whilst trying to prod his friend in an attempt to wake him.

Ron's hand lazily flopped around in the general area of Harry's voice as he mumbled in a state of semi consciousness, "Harry, leave me alone, go to sleep!"

"RON, GET UP! You are not going to believe this!"

"Believe what, Harry?" Ron mumbled. 

"Dobby has given me a locket, Ron, A locket!"

Harry's words finally penetrated his sleep induced haze. "Let's see it then!"  Ron said, now more enthusiastically.

"I dunno. Could be dangerous. He stole it from Kreacher, do I need to say more?" replied Harry a bit wary.

"But what would Kreacher be doing with a Horcrux?"

"Ron, we don't know it's a Horcrux, now, do we?" admitted Harry.

"Let's get Hermione up. She'll know what to do," suggested Ron.

"Harry? May I ask what you're doing outside of Ginny's bedroom at this time of the night?" Lupin, who was coming back from visiting the bathroom, asked sternly.

"Professor? Remus, I mean... I, I... I left my glasses there," he replied, unable to think of a proper excuse. He just happened to realise he was not wearing them.

"And why would you have left your glasses there, Harry? Remember I've been your age too, but, for crying out loud, I hope you are not up to something you may both regret!" added Lupin, looking concerned.

"No, it's not… it's not what you think!" protested a very red faced Harry, giving away the fact that he had perfectly understood Lupin's hint.

"I hope not. Now, go back to bed."

Harry went back in the direction of his room again. He waited until the sound of footsteps had vanished completely and resumed his travels. He knocked on the door. "Hermione, Hermione, are you awake?" Nothing happened. "Hermione, Ginny? It's me, Harry. There's something I need to tell you. COME ON, LET ME IN!" he whispered loudly, after looking around to ensure that no-one else was up.

A very sleepy Hermione opened the door eventually, quickly tying up a dressing gown over her night T-shirt. "Harry, do you know what time it is?" she said yearning.

"Dobby, Dobby has given me a locket!" he said, talking really fast. 

"You better come in, quick, Harry, someone could see you!"

"Ron suggested I come and fetch you," he explained.

"Ok, come in then," Hermione told him opening the door.

Ginny, who had woken up because of the loud hushed whispers, rubbed her eyes sleepily. "A locket did you say?" enquired Ginny. "Is that not what you, we," she corrected, "are still looking for?"

"Well, a locket, yes. But if this were the locket, well, it would be the best birthday present ever! It's just too good to be true. I know it's probably only a coincidence," Harry said, trying not to get his hopes too high.

"But your instincts are telling you otherwise?" suggested Hermione.

"Let's leave this Trelawney like stuff aside for a minute," said Harry, trying to get to the point. "The trouble is, I don't dare get it out of the sock in, in case it's dangerous."

"Harry, what sock? What're you on about?" asked Ginny, trying to repress a loud giggle without much success. "A sock?"

"As I said," he replied, "Dobby gave it to me, for my birthday, inside of a sock. You should know by now he is very fond of socks!" added Harry, looking towards Hermione whose cheeks had turned a pretty shade of pink, but now, it was him who was laughing loudly. Objectively, the whole thing seemed absurd.

"So, let's be clear, this, well, sock-" said Ginny, in a slightly mocking tone, "contains the said locket that neither you nor my brother have the guts to have a look at?"

"That summarises it pretty well," said Harry a little defensively.

"Come on, Ginny, let's go and have a look," said Hermione not wanting to waste any more valuable sleeping time.

"Shame you didn't have the wit to bring the invisibility cloak!" Ginny moaned to Harry.

"Hermione?" exclaimed Ron, as he came into the girls’ bedroom, giving Hermione an enquiring look as if expecting her to come up with the solution to a complex murder mystery.

"Come on, you chicken!" Ginny said to her brother. "Give us the sock, let's see what it looks like."

"Don't be reckless Ginny, remember the state Dumbledore's hand was in!" warned Harry.

"Maybe we should get Moody or someone to take a look at it," Hermione suggested.

"And what if it really turns out to be a Horcrux? We can't reveal this secret. Harry promised Dumbledore!" disagreed Ron.

Harry instinctively reached for the fake locket that they had retrieved from the cave, and which he had now placed inside the invisibility box that Ron bought him for his birthday. He looked at it, touched it very slowly, as if trying to memorise its size and the way it felt. "The locket in the memory was larger than the one we found in the cave. Also, it had Slytherin's symbol. Pass me the sock," said Harry. "It's safe with the sock, Ron. We both have touched that sock," he added in response to Ron's terrified expression. Harry, very carefully ran his fingers through the knitted material, feeling the metallic piece of jewellery. "It's larger than the one in the cave, which fits, but doesn't seem to have any engraving. It feels smooth," Harry shook his head.

"Whether Horcrux or not, we need to have it checked for dark magic," insisted Hermione.

"You're all missing something," said Ginny. "Both Kreacher and Dobby have handled it already and have come to no harm."

"But they are elves, Ginny. Maybe it's different for them," Hermione added, still very apprehensive. "I'll research how to check for dark magic."

"Hermione, you know as well as I do that no book so far has been helpful on the subject of Horcruxes," said Harry, feeling he was fighting a lost battle.

"Still, it could be something else, mate," commented Ron. "After all, Kreacher had it originally and he bears you no love."

Hermione shot a disapproving look at Ron. She was still determined to see good in all house-elves.

"It's late anyway. I'll tell you what, I'm going to put it in the invisibility box and we'll think about it tomorrow," Harry concluded. "This has been one hell of a birthday!"

It was daylight already, but it wasn't the light that woke up Hermione.

"IT'S THE POTION, THE POTION!" Ginny shouted at the top of her voice whilst still deeply asleep. "Voldemort knows we've got it!"

"Ginny, it's a dream, Ginny wake up!" Hermione commanded, now on the verge of hysteria. Ginny continued twitching and turning round very fast, screaming. She was woken up by a slap in her face which Hermione, not knowing what else to do, had thrown at her to bring her back to reality. She was now praying that Ginny's screaming hadn't woken anyone. "Ginny, Ginny, what was the dream?"

"I don't know, I think I was in the cave Harry described, where he went with Dumbledore, the green potion was there and I was drinking it. And Voldemort knew I was doing it!" Ginny’s breathing was very fast and erratic.

"Ginny, I think that was just a nightmare. It's over, it's over now," Hermione said in a soothing voice, as she gave Ginny a hug.

Hermione was not aware of Ginny having ever had prophetic dreams, like Harry did. Mind you, this had seemed pretty real to the girl. Also, Ginny had never really talked about the time when she had been possessed via the diary. Could there be a connection between her and Voldemort, like what happened to Harry? Hermione wondered but decided it was probably for the best to let her go back to sleep. Harry was right; they had all had too much excitement for one day.

Chapter 12: Out of the Blue
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Thank you so much to Nevillesoulmate for yet another wonderful image.

"And, what if I do know? I am sworn to protect him. I made the Unbreakable Vow, remember? I seem to recall you acted as Bonder!" challenged Snape, throwing Bellatrix a look of pure, undiluted hatred.

"Then you must die like a man, Severus, you must die. You can't disobey his orders!" 

"Have you just no shame? He wants the boy to kill his own mother!" 

"Well, if Draco had done as he was told to begin with...He must have known that something like this was bound to happen," she commented indifferently.

Snape glared at Bellatrix and said, "You think you are very clever, don't you? So loyal, so detached. What makes you think you are not next on his list?"

"The fact that I am able to kill people who are not disarmed, Severus." 

He sneered at this comment. "Yes, like useless Muggles. The Dark Lord wasn't impressed, you know, that's why he has given us this impossible task. Same as he did with Draco, as a punishment." He pronounced punishment slowly and intentionally.

"And why, may I ask," said Bella, affecting a babyish tone of voice, "is it impossible?"

"Well, you think about it. Why hasn't the Dark Lord been able to track him down himself? Draco is a Death Eater, after all," he said, as if he was stating the most obvious thing in the world.

"I guess he is protected by Dumbledore's lot. But, don't worry, Severus, even without your invaluable skills as a spy...I have other spies myself. Spies you haven't even thought about!" she added smirking.

"Go to hell, Bella. You won't find him so easily and I will not help you. You can turn me in if you wish, he won't believe you anyway," Snape concluded defiantly.

Bellatrix glared at him malevolently as she warned him, "I'm watching you...If you tell my sister about this..."

"You'll do what exactly?"

"You have always had a soft spot for our Cissy, have you not?" Bella mocked, getting more and more enraged all the time. Snape was holding her gaze with great intensity, challenging her.

"Cruc…" she began to shout but was stopped by Severus on her tracks, who disarmed her by casting expelliarmus non-verbally.

"You weren't quick enough, Bella. I could see this coming from a mile!" snarled Snape sick of the little game.

Hermione hadn't slept well. She had tried to dismiss Ginny's nightmare but something was niggling inside her mind. The potion, what was Ginny doing dreaming about the potion? Well, she supposed she had been a bit taken aback by learning all of the sudden about the Horcruxes but still...

"We better tell Harry, Ginny, just to see what he thinks," suggested Hermione and went back to sleep.

Ginny came to the conclusion she could not sleep any more and decided to go to the kitchen and cook an early breakfast. She was a bit surprised to find Remus and Tonks there already, drinking a cup of coffee. Not even Mrs. Weasley was up yet! They both glanced at Ginny in what she thought was a peculiar way. Maybe they had heard her screaming.

An hour or so later, Harry got out of bed. Ron was still fast asleep, as expected. He kept on looking at the sock, mesmerised. Something didn't make sense. It couldn't be the Horcrux. This locket was smooth, had no engravings, still... something didn't fit because his instincts were telling him that they were on the right track.

Hermione's attempt to go back to sleep hadn't been too successful either. Just before Harry got up, she did so herself. They needed to talk to Harry at some point to ask his opinion but, in the meantime she decided her best bet was to go to the garden on her own and relax in the way she knew best.

"Hello, Hermione," said Harry to his friend, who was now sitting on the grass reading a DADA book. Even if she had been waiting for him in a way, she looked at him a little startled. She must have been pretty engrossed in the book or her own thoughts, as she hadn't noticed him coming through the living room door.

"Hiya, Harry," she replied distractedly.

"You look a bit, I dunno worried. Are you ok?" asked Harry, a little concerned.

Hermione placed a blade of grass in the book to mark her place as she turned her head up to look at him. "Yes, I'm fine. Ginny had a nightmare last night though. It really frightened me. I've never seen her like that. Your scar hasn't been hurting or anything, has it?"

"Well, no," Harry shook his head not making the connection, still thinking about the locket. "Should it have hurt? It only ever did when Voldermort was near or feeling a strong emotion. Not when we went to the cave." But then he remembered that hadn't been the real Horcrux, so maybe Hermione was onto something here, maybe it would hurt if he came near a Horcrux. "Hermione, what was this nightmare of Ginny's?" he asked, realising he had almost not taken it in when she had first spoken, such had become his Horcrux obsession.

"Well, she was shouting something to do with the potion in the cave, the potion that Dumbledore drank. She said Voldemort knew she was drinking it and that we had the potion! Most bizarre!"

"Umm, we better go and see her. See if she can tell us any more details. I agree this is odd, although, it could just be because we told her all about it only recently, that could have set off the dream. I don't really know ..." conceded Harry, walking inside towards the kitchen.

Remus and Tonks had gone off about their business, Tonks to work and Lupin to sort out some Order's paperwork. Ginny was still at the table. She heard footsteps and proceeded towards Harry very fast, looking as if about to explode.

Harry looked at Hermione perplexed. "Ginny. What's the...?"

Ginny didn't give him a chance to finish the sentence and instead slapped him very hard on the face.

"WHAT THE HELL?" Harry shouted in shock.

"You know very well what you have been saying. You FILTHY LIAR! All you wanted to do was just show off, to prove that the Chosen One is really macho, to boast about your virility. I tell you what, if Tom finishes you off, I wouldn't say I'll blame him!" shouted Ginny.

"Ginny, YOU DON'T MEAN THAT!" Hermione yelled at her.

Harry caressed his stinging cheek, Ginny's handprint glowing in a brilliant shade of red as he gave her an intense stare. "Could you please, explain what on Merlin's beard is going on?"

"Calm down, Ginny. Whatever it is, calm down," Hermione tried to soothe her. "I don't understand this either."

"This is between Harry and I!" she replied, looking so frightful that Hermione thought it better to leave them to it and went upstairs to wake up Ron.

The fiery red head's eyes were shooting sparks as she screamed at him. "Why have you been telling people you've been shagging me?"

"What? Ginny, are you out of your mind?" he frowned. Harry truly didn't get the gist.

"Why has Tonks just given me a lecture on contraceptive charms?" Ginny shouted at Harry, her hands on her hips as she waited impatiently for an answer.

Harry looked genuinely bewildered as he sputtered "T-t-tonks? I haven't even spoken to Tonks! Could she have just been sort of giving you a motherly talk, about the birds and the bees, I mean... Tonks?" Then an idea struck Harry as he remembered the events of the previous night. "It was Lupin!, Ginny!"

"Lupin! So, you told Lupin as well? This is just bloody brilliant!" she shouted, loudly enough to wake up the whole house.

"What on earth is going on in here?" commanded Mrs. Weasley, coming down from her bedroom, looking nearly as incensed as her daughter. "Tell Lupin what?"

The youngest Weasley whirled around to face her mother as she pointed her finger at Harry. "That he's slept with me!"

At this point, Molly's face went from red, to white, to purple. She looked at Harry as if she had just found her entire family gutted and he had been the perpetrator. "You've done what to my daughter?" The expression in Molly's face really terrified Harry. She felt utterly betrayed and that came across crystal clear.

"We've done nothing, Mrs. Weasley, I swear, swear on my parents' memories. We haven't done it, all right?" Harry was now nearly crying in anger and frustration.

"So, why have you been telling people that we have?" challenged Ginny, not any calmer than she was before.

Harry bit his lower lip quite hard. "Ginny, you got to believe me!" he was now pleading. "I haven't said such a thing, why would I do that?"

"It's my fault," interrupted Lupin, who had been drawn into the kitchen by the noise and the commotion.

"Yes!" Harry was shooting a murderous look at him "It is your fault and you better get me out of this mess and you better do it quick!"

Remus looked downwards sheepishly, regreting the discord he had unintentionally caused. He hadn't meant for it to blow this far out of proportion when he had mentioned where he had found Harry the night before. Looking at the Weasley matriarch he began apologizing. "Sorry, Molly. It's only that I found Harry in the middle of the night with no glasses outside of Ginny's bedroom, I put two and two together! I just got a bit concerned. Well, she is not even sixteen yet."

"Only for a few days!" protested Ginny, dropping herself deeper into it.

"Don't you be getting ideas into your head, young lady!" Molly howled.

"But, Remus," interrupted Harry. "I told you nothing was up. Why could you just not believe me, why did you have to go blabbing to Tonks? Yeah, next thing I need is to get myself into Azkaban for statutory rape when I am supposed to be saving the wizarding world! Nice plan, Remus, very smart move! Also," he continued, "Ginny shares the room with Hermione, you surely couldn't have thought..."

In all truth, Lupin had overseen this detail and blushed at Harry's comment. "Ok, Harry, I believe you now. Let's declare the matter settled, if that's all right."

"I'll be watching you, young man!" said Molly, still not completely persuaded.

Ginny walked off in a huff towards the garden. Harry followed her. "Look what you've done now! She won't let us out of her sight, I bet you anything!" Ginny whispered to Harry, still sounding very annoyed.

"What do you mean by "I" have done? I couldn't tell Remus why I was there, could I? Ginny, please, try to be reasonable once in a while!” said Harry, getting rather tired of this. "Anyway, Ginny, I believe you had a nightmare..." Harry changed the topic.

"Well, yes, but I don't remember much about it, to be honest. Also, I would have thought that Hermione would have allowed me to tell you for myself!" she snarled.
Harry sighed as he looked at the still incensed girl. "Ginny, is anybody safe with you today? You seem to be in a mood for murder, let it drop!"

"Yeah, the nightmare," she continued, "well, I'm not too sure, Harry, but I think I was drinking the potion that, that, well, that Dumbledore drank in the cave."

"And then, what happened?" Harry asked her softly but with a sense of anticipation. "Did you see what it was?"

She shook her head, sending her red locks flying around her face. "Nope. It was green, just as you told me. I think Voldemort knew that I had it."

"That you had what, the Horcrux or the potion, Ginny? Hermione thought that you said he knew you, or we, had the potion, which doesn't really make much sense..."

"Sorry, Harry, that's all I remember," she replied, a little bit frustrated.

"No, worries, Ginny, no worries," he said , as he reached out his hand tentatively to touch her shoulder. When she didn't shrug him off, Harry sighed in relief as he embraced her in his arms, glad that the moment had passed and that they could, once again, move on.

"The war is over!" said Harry, coming into the bedroom he shared with Ron. "Can we join you now? Ginny will be here in a minute. Your Mum has just called her with some excuse or other," Harry explained. Ron and Hermione were sitting on Ron's bed but they seem to be at odds, as if they too have been arguing over something. "Come on, not you two as well!" exclaimed Harry. Ron stared right into his eyes with a look of mistrust. Harry stared back. "I've told everyone, we haven't done anything, IS THAT CLEAR?" Harry was now bursting with frustration.

"I've been telling him, Harry. He knows full well why you came to see us! He's just being stupid!" said Hermione, glancing at Harry and more or less saying: I give up!

Ron gave him another suspicious look but remained silent.

"And, in any case, I don't go asking you what you do with my best friend, do I?" remarked Harry, with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eyes as he saw both of his best mates blushing.

"That's different!" protested Ron.

"I'm not too sure how that works," said Harry, with a little bravado.

"All of you, just leave it, please. Mum was bad enough!" demanded Ginny, who was coming up the stairs.

Harry waited until Ginny was in the room and the door was closed before he began speaking again. "Now, what are we to do with all the conundrums on our hands? I just personally don’t see how we are going to figure all this out ... without Dumbledore!” He couldn’t help himself, he was really struggling to be, if not happy, at least normal, preferably happy, but he just could not get himself to pronounce the late Headmaster’s name without a feeling of loss, of sadness ... taking over his mind.

“On the subject of Muggle driving lessons,” said Hermione enthusiastically, trying to change the subject.

Harry latched onto the new topic grateful for Hermione and her diversions. “Yeah, that should be fun!”

“I think Ron should take some too,” Hermione added.

“Well, I just don’t have the galleons, do I?” Ron commented, rather glumly.

Harry shot a cutting look at him but didn’t dare say, I’ll pay for it, for fear of offending.

“Fred and George would lend it to you. You could always help them out in the shop or something to re-pay them,” suggested Ginny.

“Not a bad idea,” agreed Hermione.

“Why would I want Muggle driving lessons for?” dismissed Ron grumpily. “It’s not like I can even manage to pass my Apparition test!”

“Now, Ron, don’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ll do fine. But I would start practising Appparition if I were you, your test it’s coming up soon, in fact, really soon!” advised Hermione. “And, in answer to your question, if we are going to go out looking for, well, you know, it may be better to use Muggle transportation, it would raise less suspicion, just like the credit card idea,” she added.

“Yeah, but that’s not a fast way of travelling particularly, is it?” retorted Ron. “And, well, as for exciting, only to the likes of Dad!”

“That is a point, Ron. If you can keep a secret I am planning something like that for him for his birthday, maybe a one day event at a rally place or something. It’s only fair that I give something back to a family who has treated me like one of their own,” said Harry from his heart.

Ron gave him a funny look again that he interpreted as: As long as you don’t shag my sister. 
Harry cleared his throat uncomfortably as he averted his eyes from the two Weasley siblings. Suddenly, Ron's Chudley Canon's posters were very interesting. “And anyway,” proceeded Harry, “about the credit card business, this is after all my mission. If you are coming into it too, it should be at my expense, sort of like company expenses. And don't say anything, the matter is closed!”

“No, Harry,” said Hermione “you can’t pay for everything, it’s just not fair!”

“Look at it this way, whose neck are we trying to save here after all? It’s me he is after! And you’re prepared to risk your lives to help me, well...”. He almost regretted having said that, in front of Hermione, but then he thought, what the hell, she needed to give herself the chance to grief, she was human after all. “So, Hermione?” Harry tried to change the subject nonetheless. “Are we actually going to buy a car, then?” he seemed quite excited at the prospect.

“Yeah,” said Ron, “get yourself something really flash and let your Uncle Vernon take a look, he’ll die of envy!”

Harry and Ginny giggled. Hermione, however, had a rather serious expression in her face.

Hermione pushed some of her bushy brown hair behind her right ear and looked down at her lap as she began to quietly speak, “Well, I was just thinking, we could always use my mum’s...” But she was unable to finish her sentence because her throat had become tight and thick tears were now running down her cheeks.

“Hermione!” said Ron softly, not really knowing how to handle this. He wanted to do something to help make her feel better but Harry, having had more experience in the matter, jumped in.

“It’s ok,” said Harry taking control. He patted her on the back and gave her a cuddle. “Let it happen, that’s what Molly said to me, let the tears come. We were actually very worried about you, you know? We thought you were being well... too strong, too normal after what’s happened to you.” He paused. “Look, it was different with me, I was one. I didn’t know, I couldn’t understand and they say you can’t miss what you haven’t had, and yet, I miss my parents, Hermione, and remember? I was quite insufferable after Sirius... We understand, we are your friends, just be yourself, you don’t have to be the strong one all the time, ok?”

“Thanks, Harry,” she replied, almost choking in her own tears but still battling to regain composure. “They taste salty, though, tears,” she said trying once more to make light of it.

The morning of the previous day, Draco awoke suddenly and covered in sweat. Something was amiss, something must be amiss. Not that he had ever believed in prophetic dreams particularly, but now, he could sense something. It hadn’t been a dream, he could not actually remember any specific dream; it was just a feeling of unease, of unrest that he couldn’t shake off. That letter from Snape had meant something, of course it had meant something. It was funny how things had turned out. He was forced to rely on the person who he had thought wanted to steal his glory. He was protecting him, no doubt about that, but he couldn’t help but wonder how well he was going on about it. Despite the Potions Master's instructions, he coudn't just sit there and wait, he had to act somehow.

Chapter 13: "Llamas"
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Thanks so much to Norbert1175 for the wonderful chapter image.

Author's Note:  The Pagan festival Llamas exists and it is a happy celebration.  It is only used here as a backdrop for the scene and it was never my intention to connect it with what will unfold in this chapter.  The ritual that the character performs is inspired by mythology but entirely  a product of my imagination.

Drizzles of rain crossed the myriad of pink, red and golden shades that coloured the horizon. It was a hot rain, a sticky rain that was oppressing and relieving all at once.

A beautiful woman, not yet past her prime, sat on a reading desk, an ancient and expensive mahogany desk. Her head hung forward, her mane of silvery blond hair eclipsing her once icy-blue eyes; eyes that were now swollen and so red that could almost be mistaken for those of the Dark Lord.

Sundown. 31st July, "Llamas". The Pagan festival that Muggles still celebrated by baking the first available wheat into a celebratory loaf, by thanking God for bringing them the harvest. Harvest, fruition, an offering... The lady's head rested upon a leather-bound book, a forbidden book that was wet with her tears. A book of union, of magical contract, a snake, a flame, the rite of ultimate passage, a book by whose instruction she was going to relinquish herself, without a get-out clause. 

It was time. She took the last gulp of wine left in the silver goblet and commenced.

"Swhss, swhss" she hissed in a language she couldn't speak. She had cast the circle, conjured up the altar, a marble altar, white as snow, with a chalice above it -  suspended by magic in mid-air - which contained drops of her own very pure blood. The circle was surrounded by symbols, by letters belonging to an alphabet she couldn't comprehend but had tried to reproduce.

This was no celebratory magic! She cleaned up the air and focused her energy. She could feel a shiver, her slender fingers shaking whilst she held up the chalice. She was offering; she was ready.

"Vritra, Ophion," she invoked. “Gods of fertility, regeneration and immortality, serpent gods, I call upon you. I call upon you to help me save what is most dear to me." She paused. “I give myself... to you, Master of the Dark, Conqueror of Immortality, I beg you... please spare him! I shall give you what I believe you have been longing for, I am willing to give myself to you, as the vessel.”

She gazed into the slits of the coiling snake with a sense of serenity she didn't have before. The serpent, long and slender, was now sitting up as if ready to strike.

She was becoming drowsy, intoxicated by the smell of the incense that burned inside the chalice. A thick silver candle dominated the circle, the flame, tall, silver and green... 

"Now, you will take me, through the symbolic god, you will take me and I will continue your blood line, but please, spare the child I bore my husband!" she pledged, her irises glassy and opaque.

Her eyes became unable to focus any longer; she was falling, drifting into the abyss, spiralling down a black hole, which was swallowing her with a reckoning force. It was all getting dark, she was fainting... Something had gone wrong, there had been a barrier and it had been impenetrable... the Lord of Immortality had rejected her offer, it had been all for nothing.

Severus Snape had Apparated just outside the threshold of the imposing mansion and have proceeded briskly, cautiously trying to silence the echo of his quicken step, through the ample rooms of the seemingly deserted place, watchful for any lurking servant or for anyone else.

Finally, he arrived at the fated drawing-room. He blinked in disbelief, trying to get accustomed to the lack of light, his heart-beat rising alarmingly.

"WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE!" the man bellowed, looking with outrage at the inanimate body of the woman who lay before him completely naked, in a pool of blood.
"Evanesco!" he shouted. His eyes had now adapted to the darkness. He had gone very pale, as if drained of all blood, like the lady on the floor.

The serpent disappeared but not without a struggle. Its red eyes stared at him defiantly even as it vanished.

He would have shouted Lumos much sooner, had it not been for the fact that he didn't dare see what he was sure had gone on.

He darted towards the naked figure feeling utter disgust, revulsion like he didn't remember having ever experienced.

She had made the room bare for the ritual, there were no candelabra and the light of the receding sun found it hard to penetrate the blackness, even after the spell.

"Cissy! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" he roared startled, his facial expression denoting absolute horror. He took her pulse instinctively. She was still alive, but not for long.

Her body, white as the marble altar, had been drained of all blood, practically of all existence. It was pearly and untarnished, fragile and extremely elegant. He looked away and covered her with his own travelling cloak. He tried to clean up the blood, but only that on the surface seemed to react to his incantations. He presumed she was still internally bleeding.

He held her in his strong, muscular arms, involuntary tears flowning down his weathered and lined face. He tried to reanimate her.

"Narcissa, it's Severus. What have you done? Please, tell me that you haven't, that this is not true!” He was not a man who had ever been comfortable with emotions, never mind his own weeping. His eyes were so intent on reaching her that they looked as if about to come out of their sockets. He muttered something.

Narcissa Malfoy opened her grey-blue eyes, now deprived of all sparkle, very slowly.

"Cissy, did you know this could happen?" asked the man impatiently.

"Yes," she sighed very faintly. "Can you stop the bleeding?" she asked gasping for breath.

"I've done what I could, I promise, but I can do no more. You have gone way too far," he responded as he tried to help her to a sitting position.

"I'm cold," she muttered.

"You would be," said Severus supporting her with his strong right arm, now too shocked even to hold eye contact. "The bastard has made you bleed to death. It wasn't the snake, you have not been poisoned. The snake didn't bite you, he just rejected you." His eyes were now injected with a venomous fire, a fire that demanded justice, commanded retribution.

“Severus, am I dying?” she barely managed to utter. She was so weak that her face was scarcely able to convey any emotion.

This time, he thought, it was only fair that he looked at her straight.

“I’m afraid so,” was his concise, resigned reply.

“The Dark Lord did it, he blocked me from inside his mind; I know he blocked me. I did it for Draco. I’m willing to go as long as he is safe!”

Snape kept his gaze down and remained silent not willing to tell her that no, Draco wouldn’t be safe.

"Narcissa, you've been reckless in the extreme. You offered him to mother his child? You daft, stupid bitch!" Snape sounded angry, very angry, with her, with the Dark Lord and ultimately with himself, for the part that, unwittingly, he had come to play on this. He covered his face with his own hands and swallowed hard, his muscles tensed.

She nodded very weakly. He placed his hands upon hers, he took her pulse again, it was barely there. It was nearly time.

"Draco, I must see him...must say good-bye!" Narcissa was now weeping, becoming agitated.

"It's too late for that, Cissy, you haven't the strength; you wouldn't make it. I'll say good-bye for you, you have my word," Snape offered. "How about Lucius?"

"He's left me..." she just about managed to answer.

"I know he's left you. Now, do I say good-bye to him, for you?"

"Yes, please, Severus," she said softly, without any resentment.

"I will protect Draco. You remember? I made the Vow to you."

"Yes and thank you," she sighed falling again into semi-consciousness.

"Cissy, I think it's time to go," he said firmly, his eyes locked into hers, in truth not wanting to let go. "Look at the light, Cissy. Don't go to the dark, don't linger and don't turn back!" he commanded with urgency. "I'll help you do it!"

"But, but.... I need to see him... one more time!" she pleaded.

"DO NOT LINGER ON EARTH, GO! I'm with you!" he bellowed trying to give her the necessary strength.

"Good bye, Severus."

"Good bye, Narcissa Black."

He held her very tightly. The cloak had now fallen off her shoulders and the scene looked grotesque. Severus Snape clutching the inert naked body of the woman he had secretly loved, his reddened face partially obscured behind two curtains of black shoulder-length hair, his eyes bulging, his heart racing, sobbing and cursing like he would not have believed possible of anyone, least of all, of himself. To a bystander, it would have looked like something out of Shakespeare or the Classical Greek tragedies.

Again, he cursed the Dark Lord, he cursed Narcissa and he cursed himself. Perhaps, he should have done what she had first suggested, getting held of Draco's wand and arranging for someone else to murder her, so that her own son would not have to do it, but making it look as if he had, hoping to fool the Dark Lord.

Who would have done this, though? Bellatrix would never disobey her Master. He, himself? She had asked, that was true, but he knew in his heart of hearts that he couldn't do it; he would had never mustered what was necessary to effect the killing curse upon Narcissa Malfoy. His emotions for her had run far too deep. These emotions were never meant to reach the surface, were suppressed, buried in the most profound part of his soul, but, nevertheless, there.

In any event, Narcissa's ultimate desire had been to protect her son and, that plan, even if successfully executed, would have defeated the object all the same, for how was Draco to continue to serve in the ranks of the Dark Lord after hearing of those orders. How indeed? This would have placed Draco even in more danger, and for this he would have been in breach of the Unbreakable Vow. His own life would have been sacrificed for nothing.

What was he to do now? He reflected whilst pacing down the deserted corridors of Malfoy Manor, holding Narcissa's body, wondering where best set it to rest. Bellatrix Lestrange was now likely to be trailing him; he didn't have much time. What was he to do with her body? He could never have left her there naked on the floor covered in her own blood; he could never allow for anyone to find out how she had actually died. He could have pretended he had never set foot on her residence, but what happened to her dead body did matter to him. She should receive proper, dignified burial but in order to ensure this he must compromise his own safety, for he knew the Dark Lord would never allow for this.

And what about Draco? He'd promised to say good-bye on her behalf, but what about the details? The kid wasn't stupid; he was bound to ask questions.

He had now reached her bedroom, her beautiful large four poster bed. He laid her there to rest and kissed her forehead softly, saying farewell for the last time, his eyes completely wet, praying with all his might that she had obeyed him and had truly passed away, for she had been very intent on seeing Draco, too intent, in his view.

He must now leave and take Cissy's body with him, but to go where? He would not be able to fool Voldemort any more. His defences had now broken down; he was not strong enough to resist Legilimency. He was now on the run, from both sides of the war!

First Lily and now her! Voldemort was going to pay for it this time! Snape vowed solemnly.

Sundown had come and gone. "Llamas" was over.

Chapter 14: Blood Connections
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Thanks so much to ginnyfan4life for the wonderful chapter image!

Severus Snape thought he had heard footsteps. His eyes widened in panic. The sound of someone approaching grew louder, the Dark Lord's lot, no doubt. He would Apparate out but, what to do with her body? Then he thought, that was it, her estranged sister Andromeda! She would know what to do.

The new-comer came within his range of vision.

"Draco? What are you doing here?" he whispered, dragging him by the arm, his eyes denoting panic, fearful still of possible intruders.

Draco looked at the body resting over the bed. He stared at Snape intensely, his muscles tensed. He couldn't say the words.

"She is dead, Draco. I was too late. I couldn't save her," Snape explained withdrawing his gaze.

"Snape, YOU ARE CRYING!"  Draco shook his head in disbelief.

Severus ignored this remark. "We need to get out of here quickly. The Dark Lord is behind this. I'll explain later, we haven't the time," he urged.

Draco was oblivious to these words; he was clutching his mother's body, wondering how on earth she had lost so much blood, his heart beating so hard that he was having palpitations, tears of both anger and sadness flowing very fast.

"HOW THE HELL?" he yelled, his gaze fixed on his former Professor. "But you said you'd protect us?" continued Draco throwing daggers at Snape with his eyes.

"I couldn't foresee this," said Snape defensively. "Merlin only knows where she got the idea from!" Well, he wondered, he had always suspected Bella having done something like that in her youth, before Azkaban, but of course, he realised, the Dark Lord's soul was so fragmented he doubted he was even able to father a child; he wasn't a man any longer, well, not by any standard definition of "man." Severus began to feel sick at the thought.

"Explain yourself, Snape, what the hell did she do? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?" cried Draco.

"We have to go now. I'll tell you all about it later, and we need to take her body, I don't think the Dark Lord would allow..."

"Her body?" Draco frowned trying to take this in. "She must be buried here, this is ... was," he corrected, "- ... her home! This is nonsense!"

"Draco, the Dark Lord is trailing me, I know that, and so is your aunt Bella. We received some orders but it's too long a story, WE HAVE TO GO! We'll take her with us. I think your best bet is to go to your aunt Andromeda. She won't be too harsh; she'll take pity on you and will understand how this has come about, I think. I killed Dumbledore so I can't exactly help you much in certain quarters, but I think Potter will probably forgive you, eventually. The 40 days are over, Draco. The protection has weakened but I would still keep in touch with the priest. I just think it will help," Severus said sternly.

"What about you, sir? Will you go back to him?" he pronounced the word "him" with pure and utter hatred.

"What do you think?" Snape scoffed. "I think I may go to the priest, with another cover, for 40 days again... You got on well, did you not?"

Draco vaguely nodded.

"You'll have a hard time trying to pass for a Muggle priest!" Draco said smirking.

"I can always be a parishioner. Now, son, more action, less talk. Let's get the hell out of here, or it will not only be your mother who is dead!" he said in a non-negotiable tone.

"Stay there for a minute!" commanded Severus, suddenly thinking of something.

He walked back to the drawing room where it all had happened and with a flick of his wand he cleared all evidence of the ritual performed. Then he shouted "Accio" and took the book with him, the God forsaken book that had caused all that mess.

As quickly and silently as he could manage, he returned to the bedroom and, without a further word to Draco tried to do what he had in fact not attempted for a good number of years. He needed a memory, a very happy memory; he had never been very good with this, in fact, he did have very few happy thoughts...

Draco looked at Snape and glanced again towards his mother's body.

A few minutes later, a slivery thread started to emerge, forming what looked a bit like a giant spider, the shape wasn't too clear.

This should do the job, thought Snape.


Andromeda Tonks was working in the garden of her idyllic Lake District cottage. It was now almost getting dark. It had been a lovely day, though, bright and sunny, perfect for picking up the ingredients for her potions and perfumes. She loved making perfumes and scented candles; it was like encapsulating the freshness of summer to enjoy it during the coming winter months. Ted was indoors working on a book about Muggles, so she had time for herself. She bent down to pick up her last leaves of the day and, before she got up, she saw from a corner of her eye, what she didn't think could be. A Patronus in the shape of a spider! She stood up and shook her head and there he was, the man himself who had killed Dumbledore!

"To what do I owe this surprise visit?" she enquired her eyes looking somewhere between shocked and horrified.

"I come in peace, Andromeda. Narcissa is dead, that's why I'm here," he said trying to sound composed, actually dignified.

"Narcissa!" How?" This news took Andromeda's mind away from what this man had done. She looked deeply into his eyes, as if hoping to hear that that had been a joke.

"The Dark Lord did it. The ins and outs I don't really think you truly want to know," he replied.

"And Draco, where is Draco?" she sounded a bit panicky.

"As you can see, I have compromised my safety by coming here to tell you. I hope you'll be more honourable than to turn the boy in, he's your nephew after all."

"Well, of course not," she promised. "Where is he?"

"At present at Malfoy Manor," Snape said matter-of-factly. "Can I tell him to Apparate here? Will he be safe here?" Severus fixed his gaze on her eyes as he asked.

"Well..." Andromeda hesitated. "He's compromising us by coming here, but I suppose, he's just lost his mother... I wouldn't have the heart to turn him in, although he's a Death Eater, is he not?"

"Was a Death Eater I believe is more accurate." Snape sighed.

"So, was it Volde... who did this to her? Because of Draco?" she asked looking scared.

"Yes, in essence, but believe me, it's not anywhere near that simple."

"Ted!" she shouted by the back door.

"I'm coming" Andromeda's husband lazily replied.

"Oh, my...!" Ted's eyes opened up, questioning Snape suspiciously. "Whatever the devil...?"

"Narcissa is dead. Well, it seems Voldemort has killed her," interrupted Andromeda trying to prevent her husband from exploding.

"How do we know this is true? That it's not a trap?"

'Good point, thought Severus trying to think of a way to make them believe him.

"Would you believe me if I brought you the body?" Snape asked showing no emotion.

"Have you lost your mind!" exclaimed Ted.

"I haven't in fact. Andromeda, you'll have to give her a burial. She must have a proper burial. Malfoy Manor isn't safe." His voice sounded grave, preoccupied.

Andromeda closed her eyes, it was as if the heavens had opened and fallen on her.

"I suppose..." she conceded glancing towards Ted for approval.

Ted wasn't too convinced. Admitting Snape into their home could very easily get them in trouble with the Order and, well, if the Malfoys were on such bad terms with You-Know-Who, protecting Draco didn't bode well either.

"Well, don't stand out there. Come in, Severus," Andromeda said at once.

"I have to tell Draco, he is in great danger where he is. The Dark Lord's lot will probably arrive there any time now. I have to go. I'll be back with him and ...well..."

Snape Apparated back to Malfoy Manor. He found Draco Malfoy in a state of obvious agitation.

"Come with me!" he commanded. "Yes, we need to take her too."

"Where are we...?"

"To Andromeda's. Hold on tight. I see you managed to put some clothes on her. I should have done that myself, I suppose, had I not been in such a deal of hurry."

Suddenly, they found themselves in the Tonks' back garden. Draco was almost scared. He had never actually got to meet his aunt, who had been labelled by all his family as a blood-traitor before he was born. He would have called her such names also, well before any of the events at the Astronomy Tower... because now, well, if she was prepared to help, he would have to leave his prejudice aside.

"Well, come in then," said Andromeda to both of them.

"For heaven on earth, Snape, what happened to her?" she yelled looking at her sister’s incredibly pale body. "How long’s she been dead? Andromeda had a terrified expression in her eyes.

"I would like to ask that myself," said Draco throwing Snape an extremely hard look.

"There it is!" Snape shouted throwing to Draco the book that he had rescued from the drawing room.

Draco got hold of it but didn’t dare open it, didn't dare find out. Let’s get this out of the way first, he thought. 

They laid Narcissa’s body to rest on top of one of the beds, for lack of better ideas.

"Ted, fetch us some wine, will you? I think we all bloody need something!" decided Andromeda.

"You could well say that," agreed Severus.

Draco was staring at the floor. He didn’t have a clue as to how to communicate with a woman who was his mother’s sister and whom he hadn’t met before.

"So, you are Draco then? Look, I don’t bear you ill feeling. It must be hard for you. That, I understand. I wished we had made up though, before all this. Now, it’s too late! Damn it, my little sister Cissy..." Her eyes were now humid. "It was your side of the family, Draco, that cut me off, I didn’t want it this way!" she protested feeling the need to explain.

Draco remained silent.

"You must be Ted Tonks," he said staring into the glass of red wine he was now accepting from his host.

Ted frown. "Look, Malfoy, we’re not going to poison you or anything but you must understand you can’t be with us long. Your presence is endangering us, as you can probably gather."

"Don’t worry, I didn’t want to come here in the first place," Draco replied dryly, almost arrogantly.

Draco felt that he had now, give or take a few details, landed himself in a position not that dissimilar to Potter having gone to live with the Muggles. But he was of age, he didn’t need a guardian. He had his own mansion, his father was alive, only in prison, and he was on the run...If he had been able to kill Dumbledore, none of this would have happened, or perhaps, even, if he had accepted Dumbledore’s offer of protection. It was all his fault but he was not going to let the Muggle lovers know about these feelings.

"I think you better try and put your case to the Order. They are not like Voldemort, some of us have compassion," stated Andromeda trying to find him a way to safety.

"Now," Snape opened the topic, "the burial, Andromeda, what are we to do?" 

"You said Malfoy Manor isn’t safe..." she asked looking for confirmation.

"Correct. I wouldn’t put it past him to turn her into an Inferi or something of the kind. It’s most definitely not safe." 

"But why, Snape, why my little sister?" Andromeda cried.

"Because I fucked up, that’s why!" Draco replied at once.

The others looked at him and looked at one another. That had been some statement.

"Well, what were you supposed to have done?" said Andromeda now feeling rather sorry for him. "You have to mean to kill, and, let’s be honest, I would be disgusted if you’d had it in you, already, at your age!"

"Well, I obviously didn’t!" Draco replied a little obnoxiously.

"Snape, what about Lucius?" asked Andromeda with a slight concern.

"What about him?"

"Well, he was married to her!"

Draco looked away.  In a sense, he feared his father’s reaction. He was bound to blame him!

"Yes, Andromeda, he was married to her," replied Snape in a flat tone of voice. "He had left her though," he continued.

"Not another mess like my estrangement from her, please, no more of this nonsense!" .

"Don’t worry. I have a message, a last message, from her to him. I’ll deliver it." Snape said in a composed manner. "She forgave him," he added.

Draco sighed with relief.

"Did she mention me at all? You coming here... was this her idea?" Andromeda asked, hopeful.

"Sorry to say, no, she didn’t but I don’t think she did bear ill feeling for anyone in the end. I gather that you can relax on that one."

"Snape?" Ted had now joined the conversation. "What side are you on, or are you still playing both?"

Severus laughed out loud.

"I bloody wish I could! I killed Dumbledore, didn’t I?"

Ted Tonks looked startled when faced with this open admission.

"I think is safe to say," Snape continued "that the Order is not intending to use my services in present circumstances. As for the Death Eaters, well, Draco, sorry, now you are going to find out." He waited for a moment and then said, "The Dark Lord had instructed Bella (he said the name very quietly) and myself to find you, Draco, and his orders were for you to kill your own mother." 

Draco was now enraged, his eyes sparkled with fury.

"WHAT?" exclaimed the young Malfoy. "That’s why you wrote that letter, isn’t it?"

Andromeda and Ted looked at each other completely horrified.

"Don’t stare at me like that, young man. I was protecting you all the way. I didn’t turn you in, did I now?"

"No, I guess not," Malfoy replied timidly.

"Why did you kill Dumbledore, though?" continued Ted.

"Because I had to, Ted, because I had to!" was Snape’s stern reply.

Draco looked at Snape with slight complicity thinking about the Vow.

"Earlier today, I went to try to help Narcissa. That’s when I found her dying. If the Dark Lord finds out, I’m not likely to survive and he will find out, don’t you worry. The Order wants my neck also... Satisfied?"

"So, you are on the run from both sides. Nice place to land yourself, Snape, nice." Ted looked flabbergasted.

"I couldn’t go back to the Dark Lord, not after what he planned anyway, never!" Snape sworn looking very deeply into Ted's eyes.

"Well, I think you are in a bit of a mess, to put it mildly. Why did Dumbledore trust you, though?" continued Tonks.

"Because he had good reason," Snape replied authoritatively.

"Whatever that might have been, you’ll never convince Potter."

Snape laughed again.

"Potter? Should I be worried about what Potter likes and dislikes, arrogant little brat!"

"Well, he may be just of age, but he’s highly influential," said Andromeda.

"Let me put it this way and I’m not talking out of arrogance here. That was more his own father’s style, let me tell you. If Potter doesn’t get my help, this time he is definitely dead and I know full well what I’m talking about. Sorry, I cannot expand. I’m not saying either that I have a fool-proof plan to help him, but I can try, only try." Snape’s gaze on Andromeda and Ted was now very intense. "Now, let’s get back to the burial. Draco, I know you are going to oppose this but..." he started.

"Oppose what?"

"I think the most sensible thing is for her to be buried as a Muggle," Severus tried to reason.

"Never!" shouted Draco at the top of his voice kicking a nearby chair.

"Well, all I ask you is to take into account the risk."

"You’re trying to get into my mind!" protested Draco.

"Only because I need to."

Draco looked horrified. He could read Snape’s too. He had feared his mother hadn’t passed away properly, had unfinished business...

"Oh, my...!"

"We’ll sort that one out, don’t say anything," he communicated without saying the words.

"You must have a Muggle church, a cemetery, here in the village?" asked Snape.

"Well, naturally!" said Andromeda.

"You married a Muggleborn so, why do you look at me like that?" Severus retorted, noticing how Andromeda looked rather taken aback.

"Yes, but this is Narcissa we’re talking about..."

"Well, if Voldemort is ever defeated, we may be able to sort out something else. In the meantime, I’m afraid Muggle grave under a Muggle name. The Dark Lord was very angry with her indeed, she tried something very odd, and he knows it. Just trust me, nothing else is safe!" Snape concluded.

Draco closed his eyes momentarily but didn’t contest this anymore.

Chapter 15: Enlightenment
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Thanks so much to Gynnyfan4life for the wonderful chapter image.

A week or so after Dobby's gift, Harry went downstairs into the kitchen and found, to his surprise, Mr. Weasley, who should have been at the Ministry, avidly perusing a copy of the Daily Prophet. He stood by the step by the door and waited, as he had a feeling that there was something abnormal going on.

"Rubbish!" shouted Arthur, presumably to himself, as he was on his own.

"Mr. Weasley? Are you all right?" asked Harry frowning with concern. “I though you’d gone to work…”

“Sit down, Harry, sit down. I take it that you haven’t heard the news yet, then?” started Arthur Weasley, his eyes chuckling sparkles.

“News, what news, Arthur?” asked Mrs. Weasley, who was coming from upstairs, in a hurried tone.

“Scrimgeour's disappeared. Well, he is most likely dead, although The Prophet would have it that he has resigned because he is too frightened. Umbridge is the new Minister for Magic!” he announced.

“Oh, my…!” was Harry’s reaction. His pupils locked into Mr Weasley’s grey eyes, as he distractedly begun to run his fingers over the scars on the back of his right hand.

“It’s all a farce, if you ask me,” added Mr. Weasley looking and sounding impotent and defeated.

Molly didn’t quite know what to make of all that and started to conjure mugs and set the kettle to boil.

"When did you hear that?" asked Molly with a worried expression.

"First thing this morning, at a departmental meeting. It's all over The Prophet, well in Skeeter's style, anyway."

"The Order doesn't know yet, I don't think," she continued. "Where is Shacklebolt?"

"That's another good question, he hasn't appeared yet. Shacklebolt would have been a much better choice, well, for us anyway, but I guess she was second in command..." reasoned Arthur. "I think we better have a meeting. This change in leadership is likely to bring about some, well, changes." 

"Sorry to be negative, Mr. Weasley," started Harry "but if you want my opinion, she is a complete psychopath. She tried to use an unforgivable on me back at Hogwarts when she took over Dumbledore, not to mention making me write lines with my own blood for a detention!"

"Well, there is something else I think I need to warn you about, Harry.  I have heard some rumours at the Ministry, although at the moment they are just that, rumours, that she is been trying to pass a very obscure Inheritance Tax Act where any assets received over 10 years after the date of death of the testator revert back to the Ministry, regardless of whether the beneficiary was of age or not after those 10 years." Arthur paused to draw breath. "I think she may have had someone in mind when she came up with this, don't you?"

Harry's eyes opened up more in anger than disbelief.

"Yes, and I'm sorry to say, Harry, that she intends for this to have retrospective effect." Arthur said with a sad expression in his eyes.

"This is just not on, Arthur, you got to do something, they can't deprive the kid of what is rightly his, after all he's been through!" exclaimed Molly enraged, patting Harry in the back as if wishing to protect him.

"Oh, she's got it in for me alright, but of course this is going to affect other people; she can't just screw them all up because she wants to get at me! What about Neville, or Luna? Ok, Neville's parents are still alive but legally incapacitated, so this will have an impact on him too and on lots of people we don't know, I'm sure!"

"It may be wise for you to have a word with Bill, since he works at Gringotts. Get there before she gets this through, take out what you can, open a Muggle bank account or something, I don't know." Harry could tell that Mr. Weasley's brain was working overtime.

"Anyway, it's only money, to hell with it!" replied Harry in a temper.

"Only money that could be put to a much better use than financing Umbridge's little schemes. Well, with her track record on other species and Muggleborns, Merlin only knows what she use the galleons for!" 

"And what about blood-traitors, Mr. Weasley? Is your job secure? I mean, no offence, but if we manage to get the money out in time, well, you needn't worry, you have always treated me like a son..." offered Harry blushing. "And, anyway," he continued "she can't touch the Black estate under that law, Sirius only died two years ago."

"Ah, she has found a way around that one as well. Maybe she is convinced you will use your wealth to raise an army or something. Beneficiaries who are not blood relatives must pay a 90% death duty and, that too, is meant to be retrospective, and, by the way, thank you, Harry, for your kind offer, but I will try not to let it come to that," Arthur concluded with the same determined look that was so characteristic of Ginny.

"Well, she must see me as a threat if she is so desperate to make me penniless!"

"She is a greedy woman, Harry, very greedy and the taxation system is just the top of the iceberg, I fear." Mr. Weasley looked now extremely constraint. "She is also planning to test all Muggleborns on their magical skills before they can obtain employment or be treated if they're sick. No need to say that these tests are bound to be tough."

"How long have you known this, Arthur?" enquired Mrs. Weasley.

"Well, there were only rumours, stuff she was trying to push through, but that was... before she became the Minister!" Mr. Weasley explained.

"I definitely think we have to summon the Order, Arthur," said Molly looking serious. "We can't let her get away with all this, and as you said, this is just the beginning. You'll have to use whatever contacts you've made over the years, something has to be done!  And think of Remus, goodness, and Hagrid and the rest!"

"Yes, Molly, just let me gather my thoughts for a few minutes," he replied burying his head in his hands.

Molly now proceeded to offer them both a warm mug of tea and a toasted scone and sat at the table staring into space. Harry finished it quickly and decided to go and tell his friends.


Harry found Ron upstairs in his room reading a book on Quidditch.

"Ron, I have bad news I'm afraid..." was his opening phrase.

Ron gazed straight into Harry's eyes bracing himself to hear of a death; he was sure there must have been a death for Harry to start like that.

"Umbridge is the new Minister for Magic!" Harry announced biting his lip.

"You, what! What about Scrimgeour?" asked Ron unwilling to take this in, still glancing at the book.

"Let's go and find Hermione, see what she makes of it," Harry suggested.

"Bet you she's a Dead Eater, mate. I don't trust her a bit!" spat out Ron.

"I wouldn't put it past her, but come on, let's see what can be done, if anything at all..."


Hermione, as predicted, was reading in the library. Harry recounted very quickly what Mr. Weasley had told him. She just looked horrified.

"Sorry, Ron, but I must say that I'm a little worried about your father's job, although I guess Percy perhaps could put a good word in..." Hemione timidly suggested.

"And, why would Percy do that? Come on, you know what a jerk he is!" replied Ron unconvinced.

"Well, Harry, first things first, I bet you anything you are related to the Blacks in a way or another, most pure-blood families are,"  Hermione reasoned.

"I think you may have a point" said Harry "but who cares about the money when… Well, I find this very worrying, unless somebody sacks her, a lot of people's lives are probably not going to be worth living, I mean, Remus and well..."

"God knows what she'll do to house elves!" cried Hermione "I know you are not materialistic but what she is doing to you goes totally against the wishes of people who loved you who have died, Harry, you can't allow for this..."

"Let's go and see the tapestry!" suggested Ron in an attempt to come up with a solution.

"Not a bad plan at all, Ron. Come on, Harry," said Hermione encouragingly.

They walked up to the drawing room, ignoring Mrs Black's portrait's screaming remarks as best they could.

They proceeded towards the wall where the tapestry hung. Hermione was the first to notice.

"Look, Harry, I told you!" she exclaimed feeling satisfied. "Here it is, Charlus Potter. According to this he married Dorea Black (1920 - 1977). Dorea was the daughter of Cignus and Violetta. They had one son but it stops there. Now, Harry, let's think about it, when was your father born?"

"1960, yes, definitely," replied Harry trying in his mind to work out when his grandfather may have been born.

"Ok, 1960 and your grandparents were, what would you say, about 40, when they had him?"

"Sorry, Hermione, I've never found out for sure," he said a little sadly. There was so much he'd never learnt about his ancestors, so much his own parents could have told him if they had lived...

"Ok, let's work it out at about that, provisionally. Did Dumbledore not tell you that they weren't particularly young?"

"That's right, but that's all he said," answered Harry still looking a bit lost in thought.

"But there have to be records somewhere, we will find out for sure!" Hermione was now getting excited at the prospect of further research.

"As if we didn't have enough puzzles in our hands already!" commented Harry feeling a bit worn.

"But Tonks, Lupin or someone is bound to know. And look, say he was 40, he would have been born in 1920 or thereabouts. Now, you don't think this Charlus Potter might have been your grandfather?" Hermione proceeded.

"It's silly, I know, but the truth is I haven't got any information but if that was the case, I guess, Sirius would have told me at some point, especially because Sirius went to live with my grandparents. I'm sure if they had been related... I mean, if this had been in my mother's side, we could have tried Petunia, maybe."

"So you would be willing to trust her again, then? I think you should, Harry. I know she was mean to you but, come on, she is not in with the Death Eaters!" argued Hermione.

"I don't know, Hermione, just leave this Petunia issue for a moment. Every day seems to bring us a new mystery to solve!" complained Harry playing with his ever  untidy hair. 

Harry's eyes' now wandered towards the left side of the tapestry, towards the burn-like mark caused by the removal of his godfather's name. Suddenly, his sullen expression became animated.

"I think I've just had an idea!" He said, smiling rather cheekily.

"Yes, mate, what is it?" asked Ron.

"Just a theory on RAB," Harry continued to smile.

"Ah, but of course!" Hermione almost shouted taking her hand to her mouth, looking at the very same spot Harry was looking at. "Regulus Black! It makes sense, Harry, perfect sense. He was a Death Eater and got killed for defecting, I mean, he might have been killed because of ..."

"You're a genius!" shouted Ron.

"Slow down, guys, we have no proof of this," Harry said thinking it would be just too easy.

"It was your idea, mate!" protested Ron as if saying, Don't come up with the stuff and then chew our heads off for agreeing. 

Since Harry received the gift from Dobby, the four teenagers had made relentless, yet fruitless attempts at deciphering the identity of RAB and yet Hermione had always had a feeling that, somehow, the answer was staring at them in their faces. If Kreacher had the locket, he must have surely got it from either Grimmauld Place or from the Bellatrix, Narcissa side of the family.

'There was a connection with Kreacher, for sure. Hermione could not get this idea out of her mind. "Harry, how do you think Regulus, if it was Regulus, took the locket out of the cave? I mean, it did require two people to do this, didn't it? I would bet he took Kreacher!" she said as enthusiastically as she had just hit the jackpot. "His magical power probably didn't register!"

"But it's obvious," Harry exclaimed feeling almost victorious, "we have handled this locket before, remember? How can we've been so stupid! When we cleaned up the house!"

"Yes, Harry, I remember, but, are you sure it was the same locket?" enquired Hermione.

"Positive." Harry was now convinced. "The locket Dobby gave me is definitely the same one as the one we found when we were cleaning. It's got to be, it's like I can feel it!"

"Harry, sorry to disappoint you, but how about the Slytherin symbol, the engraving...? You said that the locket in the memory had this engraving..."

"Damn, when things were looking up!" muttered Harry defeated, his bubble having burst.

"Now," contributed Ron "what if it's been enchanted?"

"That's a bloody good point, to look different, yes!" agreed Harry feeling again on top of the roller-coaster.

"There are several things we must do though," rationalised Hermione. "We ask someone discreetly about Regulus' middle name..."

"Yeah, as discreetly as when you went into Borgin & Burkes," rebuffed Ron. "I mean, we just tell them we are curious, do we?"

"We'll just have to make it casual, that's all," she said a bit defensively. "Then we get Harry to summon Kreacher to tell us what he knows and then, we work out a way to test the locket for incantations. Simple."

"I'm going to tell Ginny," said Harry walking towards the door. "She'll kill us if we don't share this with her! And I'm dying to tell her anyway."

"Well, it's a start, isn't it?" Ron admitted.

"Only if we are right on every count though," retorted Harry, still feeling positive but not wishing to count his chickens before they were hatched.


"Hiya, Tonks, hi, Remus, has anyone seen Ginny?" Harry asked with a grin, having just gone into the kitchen looking for her.

"Goodness, Harry, you look cheerful! I never thought you were a fan of Umbridge," said Lupin a bit puzzled.

Harry realised his excitement was giving him away and tried to look contrived.

"Did I look happy or something?" He asked dropping himself even deeper in it. "I can assure you I have had enough bad news today!"

"Yes, we're not too impressed either. Now, there is something we need to ask you, Harry," Remus proceeded.


"Well, this house belongs to you after all," he started.

"Not, for long, if Umbridge has her way!" he pointed out.

"Yes, sorry, Arthur just mentioned...But it is something else." It was obvious that Lupin was trying very hard to come up with the right words.

"Draco Malfoy is at my parents, Harry," Tonks took the lead. "He's been there a week!"

"How come, I mean...?" Harry looked surprised but still he couldn't understand where he came into this.

"It would appear that Voldemort has killed Narcissa."

"Oh, my ...!" Harry exclaimed surprised. "Let me take this in, sorry, it's just one of these days."

"How, why?" asked Harry not knowing how he felt. "And, when you say, this house belongs to me...?"

"Look, he is putting my parents in danger by being there, he has nowhere to go, Voldemort is obviously after him, he can't live at Malfoy Manor," argued Tonks.

Harry's smile had now been wiped out of his face for real "So, you want me to invite him to live here!"

"Well, that's for you to decide, Harry," Remus went on. "I think he is likely to be a lot more humble now, he's in such a mess!"

"To be perfectly blunt, he would never have been my idea of a house guest, but well, I can't really say no, can I? I mean, if he gets killed or something, and of course, if he is putting your parents in danger by default... but bear in mind that this is Headquarters. I would be very careful about what we say in front of him, come on, he is a bloody Death Eater!" What a nightmare! thought Harry.

"I doubt he'll ever be a Death Eater after this, Harry, Voldemort having killed his mother," reasoned Tonks.

"You're probably right, though I would still tread carefully around him, look what happened with Snape!" Harry wasn't too convinced.

"Snape, well, on the subject of Snape..., he took the boy to my parents, in fact. My mother thinks he is still on our side that we don't know everything..." said Dora not knowing what to think herself.

"Not another one!" said Harry angrily. "Draco, maybe but... just let me go an clear my head, ok? I'm sorry," he added and left the room.

Chapter 16: Pride or Prejudice
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Harry found himself distractedly playing with his knuckles, cracking them, until it almost hurt. His jaw clenched. Umbridge, Malfoy, what next?

He really had no choice about Malfoy. He couldn't leave the guy out in the cold, indirectly partaking in his possible death, even by omission. However, he hadn't forgotten that it had been him, Draco, who had caused Dumbledore's death in the first place by letting the Death Eaters into the castle. And yet, Dumbledore himself had taken pity on him. He had seen how scared the boy had actually been, but that was Dumbledore! No matter how Harry looked at it, he could begrudgingly accept Malfoy coming to live with them, but that didn't mean that he had to like it. 

From what Lupin and Tonks had said, Snape and Draco were in touch. The man had even had the audacity to turn up at the Tonks' cottage, fugitive on toe. A strong feeling of unease was building up inside him. He himself had sworn that he would kill Snape if the opportunity presented itself, and yet again, why were so many people arguing his innocence? He had been there at the time, he had seen how it happened, he had seen the green light... He had relived that scene nearly as many times as his own parents' murder. Had Malfoy's outlook on the war truly changed because of his mother's death? It made sense in a way, Harry supposed. However he wasn't overly inclined to take too many risks, especially since it was not even a secret that the former Potions Master had been helping him all along.

The door flew open. Remus and Tonks entered the building first.

Draco stepped inside Grimmauld place silently, followed by a bundle of luggage which had appeared beside him. The once proud look on his pointy features was now replaced with one of ill-conceived disgust as he examined the decay of his new surroundings, as he glanced at the poorly kept furniture and at the wall-paper that had been peeling off the walls for decades. However, he said nothing.

"Good evening, Malfoy," Harry said formally.

"Good evening," he replied, looking around without making eye contact with any of the people present.

Tonks and Lupin had now taken a seat by the fireplace. Moody, Ron, Mr. Weasley, Hermione, Ginny and Harry were scattered across the living room in random sofas and armchairs, most of them, wishing they weren't there at all. The tension could be breathed, palpable and uncomfortable.

"Now, Malfoy," started Harry  authoritatively "I take it that you understand what this means?" 

"Meaning?" replied Draco snarling, holding his head high. "I suppose Saint Potter expects nothing less than for me to bow down in gratitude."

"Don't be ridiculous, I thought recent events would have taught you maturity. Now, what I meant, as you very well know, is that it's going to take some skill on your part to persuade us that you have truly changed, that you are on our side."

"I thought even you, Potter, would have realised that by killing my mother the Dark Lord has lost my loyalty!" said Draco locking his ice-blue eyes onto Harry's as if non-verbally saying I now know how you feel about your parents' deaths.

"I'm sorry about your mother," said Harry sincerely but in a low tone. "But I'm afraid to say you have been damn slow! How many years, Malfoy, has it taken for you to begin to understand how I've felt all this time?"

Draco didn't reply. The roles were now reversed. It was now Harry who was getting under his skin, who was touching a raw nerve.

"Ok, boys," interrupted Molly, "dinner is about to be served, I'm sure we can all do with some and, for crying out loud, would you two stop bickering, it's doing my head in!" She concluded not being able to help herself from noticing how very thin and sickly Malfoy looked.

Dinner was pretty much a quiet affair.

"This is delicious, Molly," complimented Remus.

"Glad you like it, and it's all full of goodness!" she said casting a look in Malfoy's direction, who was staring at the vegetable broth with what could be described as nothing but contempt. Vegetable broth indeed! And the main course of mutton and potato stew wasn't much better either. He knew the Weasleys weren't wealthy, but how about his host, supposedly a millionaire? Could Potter not boost up the shopping budget just a tad?

Treacle tart and coffee followed. The atmosphere remained tense. Draco himself didn't enjoy this tension any more than any of the Order members. Malfoy thought for a minute, silently and introvertly. Had Potter been the one in danger and himself the one with the option of affording protection, what would he have done? Well, that depended, he thought. Of course, if his own family had been at risk, that would have had to had come first. On the other hand, what the Dark Lord had planned for him to have to do was just plainly disgusting, unthinkable... and dislike him as he might, Potter perhaps didn't deserve to die at the hands of such a monster, a nuisance as he was!

Malfoy was now trying to work out his true feelings for his rival. He hated his arrogance, his superiority, especially as it solely stemmed from the fact that he had been the first one to survive the killing curse. But Malfoy now had to begrudgingly admit that, in turn, that indicated that Lily, Muggle-born or not, had possessed great skill. But the boy was just too annoying and famous. Also the way that he associated himself with scum, when he could have been befriended by people from the very best families, the way he had turned that down, in first year, for the sake of being mates with that Weasley wastrel. Why did Potter do that? Did he have no ambition? And then again, everything about Potter seemed to come to him effortlessly, like having become so obscenely rich, being only a half blood!

Alastor Moody on his part couldn't take his magical eye off the boy. He had the mark, he was a Death Eater, dead mother or not. Veritaserum, that would just do the trick, he thought. Where on earth had the boy been since he was last seen at Hogwarts? With the Death Eaters? How come Narcissa had annoyed Voldemort to the point of him killing her personally? But, had he really killed her personally? Well, that was another question.

Harry, by that stage, was now yawning badly. The events of the day had put a great strain on him. As far as he could see, this whole Malfoy affair could be put on hold until the morning, and Umbridge, and the locket and the whole lot of it! He felt drained. He decided he was going to bed.

"Now, young man," Mad-Eye addressed Malfoy. "Are you going to give us the privilege of explaining what the hell you've been up to since the Astronomy Tower?"

Draco had expected this, admittedly. He had thought, however, somehow arrogantly, that his Occlumency could have kept them at bay. Of course that didn't work. He was exhausted.

"Let's leave that for tomorrow, Alastor," protested Mrs. Weasley, "the kid's had a tough day and the same goes for us all."

"No disrespect, Molly, but this is, I'm afraid, a security matter. He is staying with us, here at Headquarters. We can't allow mistakes. Enough people have died because of traitors!" was his final pronouncement.

Draco didn't dare gaze at Mad-Eye too closely. Ok, granted, it had not been the real Moody who had turned him into a ferret back in his fourth year, but the image just wouldn't leave his mind. Moody scared him a bit, although, of course he would never admit it. But, on the other hand, he must gather strength and pull himself together because there was no way, just no way, he was going to admit having stayed with a Muggle Priest! Actually, Draco doubted that they would even believe him! He had suffered already so much humiliation; this thought had become reinforced by the sight of his cousin cosily holding hands with a werewolf. They truly terrified him, werewolves. This one had been his teacher for a year and had never shown signs of being as vicious as Greyback but even so - when was the next full moon?

"If you truly have nothing to hide from us, boy, I'm sure you won't object to a little Veritaserum," continued Alastor much on the same vein. 

Molly glared at him and looked at the Malfoy boy. He had gone very white. Mrs. Weasley had never been a fan of Veritaserum.

"You know my views on that, Molly, why should we trust him? Now, Malfoy, answer me this?" Moody said in a bit of a temper. "Are you or are you not a Death Eater?" Mad-Eye now looked impassive, behaving like the true Auror he was, carrying out his security duties.

"I was once, I suppose," Malfoy admitted very quietly.

"So, you're not, anymore? Likely tale!" Alastor retorted. 

“That fucker Volde.... murdered my mother. I hate him as much as Potter does!"  "For the very same reason..." cried Malfoy arguing his case.

"It's late now," Harry intervened. "Leave him to me and believe me, I have not forgotten how he smuggled Death Eaters into Hogwarts, how he boasted about his mission on the train to school, how he tried twice to kill Dumbledore and nearly killed Katie Bell and Ron. No, Malfoy, I haven't forgotten. Also, I must confess, I'm intrigued about your cosy relationship with Snape."

"I've got some Veritaserum," said Moody. "Let's question Malfoy properly now."

"We'll question him tomorrow, but for now, just leave him alone," Harry concluded.

On that note, Harry decided he may as well play the host and show Draco the room he had been allocated. Unfortunately, in order to get up the stairs, they had to pass by Mrs. Black's portrait yet again. Harry smiled at how predictable this was. He was sure old Walburga would be pleased to have one of her own residing at the place. He was slightly wrong. The old hag's painted image saluted Draco at first, acknowledging him as a rightful heir of the Black heritage but then it changed its mind mid-way and started screaming that even her own true blood was now mingling with Muggle lovers.
Malfoy looked at her in slight awe, he frowned, but again, he said nothing. That house should have belonged to him anyway, he thought. Maybe Potter needed reminding about that fact if he got more impertinent.

Harry had decided to place his guest on the uppermost floor of the house. He put Malfoy as far as he possibly could from the rest of them. This fact hadn't passed unnoticed. But maybe that had been a mistake, Harry wondered with hindsight whether this may not give Malfoy further opportunity to plot and send owls undetected to the likes of Snape. Ok, arrangements had already been made for that night and it was getting late. Tomorrow he would try to think of a plan B.

They arrived at the top. Harry opened the heavy wooden door and let Draco in. Malfoy really resented having had to move his trunk all the way up the stairs, even if he had used magic to accomplish it. That was another insult, as it was the room, which felt cold, even in August, and extremely inhospitable; its tiny size, the fact that there was hardly any furniture, only the bare necessaries... In fact, it felt more like a cell.

Harry sensed how Draco felt about the place and grinned, feeling a perverse pleasure.

"Be my guest, Malfoy, make yourself comfortable." 

"Your guest?" Draco replied throwing a look at Harry that conveyed he wanted to spit at him. "Your guest or your prisoner, Potter?"

"Well, you don't know me well at all, do you now? But even so, do I strike you as the kind who enjoys taking hostages?"

"Just leave me alone, will you!" cried Malfoy not able to suppress his sadness or his anger any longer.

Harry let him be.

Harry decided just to go back downstairs to say good-night but not to linger for long. He could do without questions. Ok, it was his house, but really it belonged to the Order as far as he was concerned; it was their Headquarters. He had, somehow indirectly, been put in a position where the ultimate decision regarding Malfoy fell onto him. Ron, Hermione, and especially Ginny, he could kill to talk to them! Even Remus perhaps. He felt lost and, yet again, there was a sense of urgency on the whole episode. If this went wrong, everything would, if Draco managed to betray them, all would be lost, that's why he needed them, to reassure him that he'd done the right thing.

"Good night," said Harry yet again, his eyes looking blank, tired with the thinking.

Mrs Weasley, unwittingly, played straight into their hands.

"Off to bed, boys and girl!" she commanded, looking at the youngsters. Harry, Hermione and the two younger Weasleys felt relieved. They could finally talk to one another in private. They went to the boys' bedroom.

"Well, the idiot hasn't left behind his airs and graces, has he?" Ron opened up the topic.

"Come on, Ron, did you seriously expect him to?" mocked Ginny. "It's going to take more than him being in danger and his mother being dead, surely!" She tried to remind them.

"I don't know what to truly think, guys," said Harry looking a bit confused.
"Maybe he'll grow up a bit, Harry. After all, he has now experienced first hand what Vold... is capable of, even to his own people." Hermione commented trying to be optimistic, realising that if this was a mistake, it would be a serious one.

"Ok, I'm a bit inclined to agree with you, Hermione," said Harry thinking on the same lines. "Of course, miracles don't happen just like that. Of course he hasn't had a complete personality transplant! Ok, if he's going to be decent, even if he is still his arrogant self, I'm willing to protect him but there is always the if," he concluded.

Harry's eyes were now nearly closing. He longed to get to sleep but what he longed for the most was to fall asleep with Ginny by his side, just the two of them ... It would be her birthday soon, he'd been thinking about that all day, even despite Malfoy and all the other conundrums. He would have loved to think of an excuse to be alone with her, but he just couldn't come up with one.

Despite being that tired, Harry couldn't get himself to fall asleep. More and more ideas flashed in his mind.

Now, Kreacher? That was another problem, he thought. He must keep them separate, at whatever the cost. It wasn't hard to guess that the pure-blood obsessive elf was likely to develop a soft spot for someone.

Chapter 17: The Shadows and the Light
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This is the first chapter image I have managed to make myself.

The air felt stale both inside the bedroom, unoccupied for years, and outside, as Draco discovered when he opened the window in his quest for a breeze. The sky was dark and clammy, dimly illuminated by the odd street light. The white facades of the Georgian terrace houses that delimited the square felt slightly smarter, from the outside and at night than his first impression had made him believe. Despite this, as far as number 12 was concerned, he couldn't really find many redeeming features.  He observed his surroundings absent-mindedly.  A Muggle appeared to be reading by an electric lamp in the nearby window of a neighbouring property. Most probably someone - he thought - who, like himself, was finding his pillow hard to get on with.

Malfoy hadn't been able to sleep peacefully since his mother had died and things had got seriously worse from the moment he took a reluctant look into the book that Snape had thrown at him in answer to his questions. Late at night, alone in the guest room at the Tonks' cottage, he had stared, time and time again, at its ancient leather cover, with intrigue and revulsion, torn between opening it and living in oblivion.

After three nights, however, he had made his decision. He had wanted to know, to find out the truth, whatever that was. But now that he did know, he so strongly wished he had remained in the dark, or in the light, to be more precise. It had been his family's involvement with the dark arts that had forged the path towards the place where he now found himself, not the physical place, but the place in its mind where all that could prevail was doubt, regret, despair and fear.

Ever since, his nights had been tainted with the horror of the ritual his mother had performed, filled with the snake and the candle and the bloody damn book, tormented with the blood that he knew flooded onto the floor, draining from her body.

Sometimes, when his body gave in and finally fell asleep, he sensed something strange, almost as if someone was trying to reach out to him but without much success. Had his mother properly passed away? Snape had been suspicious. However, if the Priest had been right, the funeral ceremony should have done the trick. But since when had he believed in Muggle mumbo-jumbo? But, given the fact that the Slytherin Master had decided to research matters further, perhaps somehow, he thought, there was some truth in it.

Needless to say, he was not in any hurry to immerse himself in dreams.  That night, his first at Grimmauld Place, was no different. In fact, it was more intense.

Dawn came and found Harry at a loss for what to do. RAB, Kreacher, Umbridge, his ancestors, how to destroy a Horcrux, Snape, Malfoy... What to do about them all? Firstly, he admitted to himself that he was inclined to agree with Hermione that Kreacher was likely to have a connection with the real locket, well, only in the event that RAB was really who they thought. Still, if that was true, under no circumstances could he permit the elf to talk to Malfoy about it. Separating them wasn't enough of a safeguard. The house-elf was currently at Hogwarts but he had learnt, through bitter experience, that the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange could get information out of him anyway, No, he had to summon the elf and forbid him from talking to his guest but the wording, of course, was extremely important; any loophole left open could ruin it all for good.

The house was under the Fidelius charm so there was no way that Malfoy could repeat its location and, of course, they weren't going to let him partake in the Order's meetings but still there must be a lot that he could learn by merely being there. 

Hermione was the first one to come into the kitchen. She found Harry clutching a mug of coffee completely in his own world.

"Are you all right, Harry?" she asked trying to bring him back to reality.

"Yeah, sure... Just thinking," replied her friend. "Thinking about Kreacher actually. I mean, if he really knows about the Horcrux - he mentioned this word in a whisper - we cannot let him be anywhere near Malfoy."

"I agree, Harry, but he is at Hogwarts, is he not? How is Malfoy going to get to the school?" asked Hermione in her usual too-clever-for-her-own-good way.

"But what happens if Hogwarts doesn't re-open and he has to come back here? Even if it does open, which I doubt, what is to prevent him from telling another Death Eater's kid?" objected Harry.

"Well, in all probability, if he was that way inclined he would have done this by now, don't you reckon?"

"I see what you mean. I just don't want to take any risks, Hermione. All kinds of weird thoughts are coming to my head. I think I'm getting paranoid but, I mean, do we even know for a fact that Narcissa is dead? Could this just be a story, a trap?"

"Harry, she is dead," said Hermione gathering strength to try to be patient with him. "The Tonks apparently buried her in a Muggle cemetery."

"Bloody hell! Did they? I bet that really pleased Malfoy!"

"Well, the fact that he accepted that shows just how much danger he is in. I know he is an idiot and a pure-blood obsessive but I do feel a little sorry for him, don't you?"

"Well, I lost my parents too. You lost your mother. He is not the only one; it's just that he makes more of a fuss about it!"

"Come on, Harry, you have made a fuss too all these years, be honest! I'm not saying that is wrong or anything but..."

Harry frowned at her, a little annoyed actually. Had he really made an issue of it? He supposed he had, he conceded to himself.

"Ok, we are getting a bit off topic here. Back to Kreacher, what exact words can I use to forbid him to talk to Malfoy, Hermione, come on, you're bright!"

"You mean, from talking to him altogether?" she obviously thought that was a touch too extreme.

"Well, I don't object to Kreacher serving him a meal or something, you know exactly where I'm heading..." replied Harry still thinking.

"You could just forbid him to talk about Vold..., members of the Black family and the locket specifically, I don't know. Also, of course, about the conversations that he has heard from any of us. That's it, tell him not to divulge any conversations he has ever heard and not to talk about his time with Regulus as his master," said Hermione.

"Yeah, something on those lines," replied Harry.

"But don't be evil to Kreacher, it's not his fault that he was left on his own for so long, that he's got a bit loopy," said Hermione hoping to be persuasive.

"Sorry, Hermione, there is a flaw in this idea. First of all, we need to ask him about Regulus and the locket, don't we? So if we forbid him from revealing conversations..."

"Well, just tell him that talking to us is fine. In fact, tell him to talk to us." Hermione couldn't actually see where the actual problem was.

"Ok, get Ron up, I'm going to summon Kreacher here before Malfoy gets up and Moody goes on again about the questioning."

Kreacher Apparated reluctantly to the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Harry thought they needed a more private place and asked him to accompany them to the library. Hermione put in place the Muffliato charm. By that stage, Ron had also joined in.

"Mudbloods, blood traitors..." the elf muttered under his breath.

"Kreacher, I forbid you from saying either of those words," Harry said irritated.

The elf attempted to cover his large ears as if to prevent having to obey the command and started making gulping and chuckling noises as it would appear that he was still trying to throw more insults but was physically prevented from doing so.

"Um, Kreacher, I want you to listen to me, ok?" Harry said seriously, bending down to the elf's level. "I forbid you from saying anything about what's going on in Grimmauld Place to anyone, especially to Malfoy, ok?, I forbid you from repeating any conversation you hear!" He stared down at the creature, knowing that he would now have no choice in the matter. "I mean it. I also forbid you from talking to anyone but myself, Ron, Hermione and Ginny about any locket, or cave, Regulus Black or Voldemort, understood?"

"Yes, master," Kreacher muttered, though fixing him with a look of steely loathing.

"Now, Kreacher, there are things I need to ask you," continued Harry "I forbid you from repeating the contents of this conversation to anyone at all, is that clear?"

Kreacher nodded unwillingly and again, muttered something unintelligible, his enlarged eyes throwing daggers in Harry's direction.

“I command you to tell me all you know,” and Harry emphasised the word all, “and to tell the truth, about a locket that you stole from us when we were cleaning the house two years ago. How did it come to be here in the first place?”

“It belonged to my master Regulus,” Kreacher said very proudly.

“Ok, how did your master Regulus come by it, do you know?”

The elf was now struggling; his face looked pitiful. Hermione realised that he must have been commanded by Regulus all those years back not to tell anyone about this either. But now, Regulus was dead and he had passed into Harry’s ownership, he was forced to tell Harry and in doing so, to betray the master he had loved the most. The inner conflict must have been horrific.

"Regulus took it from a cave by the sea," the elf said and proceeded to beat himself up against an old wooden table.

"I command you to get up and stop beating yourself," said Harry "Now, did he tell you this?"

"No, brave master Regulus took Kreacher with him, to the cave."

Harry was now getting both curious and excited. "How did he get the locket though, did he know how to do this?"

"Yes, I think so," was Kreacher's reply. "We crossed the lake on a boat, there were dead bodies there, it was so horrible!" the elf started to cry. "We got to the island and there was a basin with a green potion there."

Hermione glanced towards both Ron and Harry with a smug expression that could be read as I told you so.

"Carry on, Kreacher, please..." Harry was now trying to be nice, not because he had much regard for the elf but because he thought that it may prove more fruitful.

"Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to make him drink the potion."

"So, it wasn't you who drank it?" The three teenagers looked at one another in awe, their respect for Regulus growing by the minute.

"No, he said I had to make him drink it."

"And what happened then?" Harry was now getting anxious.

"My master was like in a dream, he said terrible things, could hear horrible things," the elf was crying now very loudly. "He said he knew the Dark Lord knew that he, master Regulus, had the locket, that I was to Apparate out and take the locket with me and never, ever, tell anyone and now he is dead and I have to tell the mug...." As he had been ordered, Kreacher couldn't completely utter the word and not hurt himself, his face was red and purple, his eyes bulged as if going to escape from its face.

"So, that's what Ginny's dream meant!" exclaimed Harry astonished. "Drinking the potion informs Voldemort about who has drunk it. I see." He paused. "Hermione, I think you were right all along! And the worse thing is that he knows he is minus several, well, you know what I mean," he concluded without saying the actual word.

Hermione and Ron sighed. How many more Horcruxes could he have made? What was worse - thought Harry - was that since Dumbledore hadn't predicted this, they had absolutely no clues as to what the receptacles of Voldemort's further pieces of soul could be.

"What happened to your master?" Harry enquired.

"He told me to get out, so I had to obey. Never saw him again, nor did anyone else." Kreacher said really sadly.

"Now, Kreacher, what happened to the locket that you took from the cave?" asked Hermione.

"Kreacher brought it back, Kreacher obeyed his master," the elf sobbed uncontrollably. 

"Ok, Kreacher," said Harry. "I command you to tell me the truth. Have you still got the locket?" Harry was now smiling as he thought that he may actually know where the locket in question had ended up.

"No, no, it's gone, missing! Missing! Kreacher doesn't know where it is!" Kreacher was now looking as if about to beat himself up again, despite Harry's order to the contrary.

"Ron, go and fetch the sock," said Harry. "We shall soon find out."

As instructed, a few minutes after Ron appeared holding in his hand the bright knitted sock that Dobby had given Harry for his birthday.

"Kreacher, please take out the contents of that sock," commanded Harry.

Kreacher had no choice but to do as he was told. His eyes really bulged again. Harry made him verify whether or not that had been the locket he brought back from the cave.  The elf confirmed that it was the same item.

"Now," Harry continued, "I want you to think carefully and tell me whether the locket you took had any engraving on it?"

The house elf shook his head several times and finally confirmed that, no, the locket he had seen and kept for many years didn't have any engravings. The sound of his crying was now hard to bear.

"Give the locket back, Kreacher," ordered Harry.  Kreacher resisted with all his might but gave up in the end; again he could do nothing but obey.

"Ok, Kreacher, ok," said Harry now having taken some pity on the elf. "That's all for now, but please, remember what I have ordered you, and," Harry added with a stroke of inspiration, "I expressly forbid you from trying to steal this locket, or hide it, or take it for safe-keeping."

Kreacher nodded and on he went to sulk in his cupboard.

Molly served a full English breakfast to the people who had stayed there the night. Neither Draco nor Harry had shown up just yet. Harry had gone to wake Ginny up and to put her in the picture. They came downstairs together and Harry couldn't but notice that Mrs Weasley was throwing at them a rather suspicious look. Harry decided to pretend he hadn't noticed.

"Someone goes to fetch the Malfoy boy," said Mrs Weasley to no-one in particular.

Harry and Ron both raised at once.

"I think I should go," said Ron "after all, it was me he tried to kill!" added Ron sounding as if he was now ready for a fight.

"I'll come with you!" insisted Harry who wasn't in the mood for the open confrontation he knew was likely to take place.

"Malfoy, come on, get up!" commanded Harry knocking on his door. "You're not at Malfoy Manor any more!"

After only a few minutes the door opened and there was Malfoy, looking paler than ever.

"Blimey! What's happened to you?" asked Ron a bit taken aback by their guest drained appearance. "Have you seen a ghost?"

Draco Malfoy pointed his icy eyes maliciously towards both the boys and said "Maybe I have, actually."

Harry was now alarmed. He thought that, for a second, their minds had connected and yes, maybe he had in truth seen a ghost. He prodded Ron with his elbow asking him to stop having a go.

The three of them descended to the kitchen and, as expected, Mad-Eye Moody was the first to speak.

"Harry," he started, "you promised me that today, we could ask him some questions."

"Yes, Alastor, just let us have some breakfast, please!" was Harry's tired request.

Malfoy really looked ill, Harry thought. His defences were now so down that Harry, almost unwittingly, seemed to have been able to penetrate his mind and this, taking into account how terrible he had been at Legilimency during his classes with Snape, spoke volumes.

It had been Narcissa he had seen! She was not like the ghosts in the castle; she was truly a tortured soul as far as he could tell. Harry took a deep breath. He knew that some of the stuff he had briefly caught was really very private. He remembered how bad he'd felt when Snape had seen the vision he had had of his own mother's death. If he had to be honest, even if he didn't think much of the guy, Harry felt a bit ashamed for having intruded like that. Everybody had the right to their own private grief. He took another deep breath and closed his eyes for a second.

Also, he had an idea that he had seen something connected with a Muggle church, oddly enough. Yeah, maybe Malfoy held the key to the Slughorn's conundrum

Once breakfast was over, Moody, like a dog with a bone, started up again.

"Ok, Malfoy, since we are fair people here in the Order, I will give you a choice. Either Veritaserum or the Unbreakable Vow," offered Mad-Eye flippantly.

Draco locked his gaze into Moody's defiantly, without blinking.

"The Vow to do or not to do what?" Draco replied with a smirk.
"Not to betray the Order under any circumstances and not to pry into our business," Harry interrupted. "That way, Malfoy, we won't pry into yours too much. Well, not into private aspects, you see, although of course we still want to know a lot of stuff. But, I can offer you privacy with regard to your mother's death, for instance..."

Harry looked at Malfoy straight in the eye but without malice. Malfoy realised that Potter already knew, even if he wasn't sure how much. He couldn't bear that and he realised he must protect his mind a lot better. Potter was the last person on this earth he wanted to share this with! And he wasn't too keen in sharing it with the rest of the Order either. He had no choice. He had to make the Vow; Veritaserum would leave him even more open.

"Ok," Harry proceeded, "since this is your scheme, Moody, will you act as Bonder?"

"My pleasure," he replied.

"Ok, the wording is to be that you must not betray any of our secrets to anyone at all and that you are prepared to fight to the death against the Dark Arts," Harry pronounced solemnly. "Now, remember, a breach will mean your death."

Malfoy looked at Potter a little horrified but determined to go through with this, with all its implications.

Harry was now wearing a big smile.

"Relax, Malfoy," he said still grinning. "Sorry, Moody, this for me is enough! Think about it, what would happen, say, if he gets captured and put under the imperious curse? He would die! Would any of you want this on your conscience?"

The whole party looked at Harry almost in shock. He had taken such command in all this, even at his young age. Moody protested openly, Lupin frowned with suspicion, Ron wasn't too pleased either but they all listened to him.

"This is very noble of you, Harry..." started Mr Weasley "but, you're been a bit trusting, Dumbledore's man through and through as they said, but without the Vow..."

"Sorry, Arthur, I have seen it in his eyes, he was prepared to do it and he doesn't strike me as the type who is prepared to be willingly slaughtered. I trust he is not that evil either. After all, he couldn't even kill for his own side, for his parents' safety. But don't worry, Malfoy, we'll keep an eye on you. If you do betray us, the consequences will be very severe, so don't just go forgetting. I will question you personally. I'll respect your mother's death and that but I will ask you everything else, but I'll do it in private and I won't go blabbing more than is necessary, you have my word on that," said Harry.

Draco blinked with relief. He thought Potter had acted with honour. Back at Hogwarts, Malfoy would have regarded this as a weakness in his opponent. Now, he saw that as his strength, Saint Potter had managed to get him in a position where he was indebted to him.

The matter was closed for the time being.

The night after that morning Harry had a dream as from a fairy-tale. He was embracing Ginny, holding onto her waist atop a pleasant and placid unicorn. The beast was white and silvery, as if made of pure light. She was riding in front, her beautiful red hair cascading on her back, both their robes billowing behind them at the mercy of the wind, in a fantastic forest... galloping into another world... He felt free and pure like never before. Then, just before he woke up, at the end of the dream, Malfoy appeared and said thank you to him. Bizarre! Harry thought but then, maybe that had been his reward for his act of chivalry towards his guest that day.

Now, that was perhaps what Ginny would like for her birthday, riding a unicorn! Fantastic! Harry thought.  He was aware thought that, according to legend, only maidens could approach these mythical animals. That thought made him blush for he wasn't sure for how many more birthdays they could keep off each other for her to remain so.

Anyway - he made a mental note - I will talk to Hagrid about it, to see if it can be arranged.

Chapter 18: For Richer for Poorer
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Harry had been thinking for several days about what to get Ginny for her birthday . All sorts of strange ideas had entered his head, from riding unicorns - as he had dreamt - to inappropriate gifts such as diamond rings. He wanted to give her something truly special but he was also aware that he shouldn’t go too far. After all, it had been him who had decided, a couple of months before, that they couldn’t be together. It wasn't right for him to go and build her hopes up, but on the other hand, he knew better than anyone that his resolution had never held too well.

Hermione had to be his best bet as an advisor, he thought. She was a girl and friends with both of them. That was it, he would ask Hermione to accompany him to Diagon Ally to see if they could come up with something.

“Can I borrow your girlfriend for the day?” Harry asked Ron with a mischievous grin.

Ron looked somewhat startled.

“My...what, what did you say?” Ron replied disconcerted.

“You heard what I said perfectly well! Don't you think I have eyes and ears! Don’t go saying that she is not your girlfriend because on one occasion you pretended not to be interested, you ended up attacked by a flock of canaries!” Harry reminded him containing his laughter.

Ron blushed and nodded, keeping his gaze down.

“What was that?” asked Hermione who had now entered the room.

“I was just wondering if you would come with me to find a present for Ginny?” asked Harry.

“Why do you leave me out?” Ron now protested openly. “What do you expect me to do - amuse myself all day in Malfoy’s company?”

“Oh, I’m sure the two of you’ll get on like a house on fire!” mocked Harry.

“Yes, the house may end up on fire quite literally!” Ron snapped.

“Look, it’s nothing personal, mate, but I just thought I need a witch’s opinion, that’s all. Please, try not to tell Ginny where we are going, ok?”

Ron nodded grudgingly in semi-acceptance.

"And we better not tell your Mum either," added Harry. "Well, you know what she's like, she'll send a troop of Aurors to protect us."


Harry and Hermione apparated to The Leaky Cauldron. The place was still quiet. They ordered some breakfast and a pot of coffee. Tom, as usual, was quite glad to see them.

"Ok, Hermione, any ideas?" asked Harry hoping that perhaps Ginny had dropped some hints.

"No, I'm afraid, none, Harry, sorry," she replied. "Well, do you have anything at all in mind yourself?"

"Too many things really but, it's just..., it's just that I don't want to sound too, well, committed, I suppose..." He blushed a bit.

Hermione couldn't help but laugh. She looked at him straight in the eye and smiled.

"Harry, I really don't understand what game the two of you are playing. I mean, are you going out?"

Harry blushed again. "Well, that is the question isn't it? You know I have feelings for her, but what if Voldemort finds out?, especially now that she appears to have some sort of connection with him too! It's all so very worrying..."

"I know," she empathised giving his hand a squeeze. "Don't play with her emotions, though. I know you wouldn't do that, well, not on purpose. The girl has been through some roller-coaster with you, you know," she said a little reproachfully.

Harry sort of nodded apologetically.

"She really, really likes you and she is aware of the risks. Look, we could all end up dead, it's not just you or her," she continued "it's just a little tiresome to see the two of you back and forth all the time. I'm not saying that you should get engaged or anything daft like that but this war may last years, Harry, we don't know. If you weren't sure that she is what you want, I would say stay away but something is telling me that you really feel for her. She gets frustrated with you, especially because you keep on going on all the time about going to die soon and all the rest. I'm not saying that I don't understand how you feel because I do, but it comes down to this in the end, do you want to buy her a present as a friend or as a boyfriend? Think about it, Harry."

He remained silent for a moment.

"Ok, I've been told!" he replied still avoiding dealing with the real question.

"The thing is there is not much point in me keeping my money at Gringotts, is there? Well, with Umbridge trying to take it all and that, I may as well splash out. I’d rather she has something really nice," he said trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing.

"Something like what, Harry?" Hermione was under the distinct impression that he had thought of something that even he considered well over the top.

"Maybe jewellery, I don't know, what do you reckon?"

Hermione smiled knowingly. "Well, unless you want to formally propose I wouldn't touch a ring, that's all I can say."

"It doesn't have to be a ring!" protested Harry. Had he been really that obvious? In fact, he would have actually liked to be able to give her something from his own mother. Then again, he didn't really have anything from her, did he? That brought his thoughts back to the subject of her wand, which was in fact only a couple of doors down the road from them.

"Harry, what are you thinking now, you look lost in thought?" she asked a bit concerned.

"Oh, it's nothing. I was just thinking about my Mum's wand. I think it may be a plan to retrieve it from Gringotts. Well, with Umbridge now as Minister..."

"For what you told us, Hagrid seems to have placed it somewhere really secure. I know Dumbledore gave it to you in his Will... Ok, ask the goblins when you are there. Let's see what their reply is," she told him a little unconvinced.

"Ok, are we going to Gringotts first, then?” He asked a little impatiently.

"Well, you'll need to get some money for the present, but do you really want to carry the wand around with you all day? You know that it's important and not just because of the sentimental value. Harry, you know what the last thing that was done with it was, don't you? Hermione reminded him.

"Ok, I'll get the money first and I'll ask. If it's ok, I'll collect it when we leave."

With this agreed, Harry left the pub. Hermione had said she would wait there and try to think of a possible gift. She had somewhat sensed that the goblins might resist his request. She thought that maybe his best hope was to go on his own and to remind them, if necessary, of what a wealthy customer he was.

Harry crossed the road and, in no time, found himself facing the familiar white marble building. He walked up the steps. Instead of the customary goblin in gold and red robes who used to flank the bronze doors, he encountered a pair of wizards who inspected him with their Probity Probes. Harry hadn't used any concealed magic and he was quickly welcomed into the next entrance hall. As he reached the silver doors, he remembered the inscription that had captured his attention the very first time he had entered the bank:

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

"A treasure that was never yours." So, according to this, it was alright to take what legitimately was his. Interesting, Harry thought raising an eyebrow.

He walked from this hall into the circular main one. Hundreds of goblins were busy at their tills attending a variety of customers. In fact, Harry spotted his last year's Potions teacher at one of them. Slughorn nodded politely but seemed to be too much in a hurry to engage in conversation. Harry thought this was odd because, in his experience, he seldom missed the opportunity to be seen in the company of the Chosen One. This was just as well, especially as the main business that had brought him to Gringotts was the retrieval of his mother's wand and he didn't particularly want to have to ask for it in front of him.

Harry proceeded towards one of the counters and asked to see the person who had sent him the owl upon his coming of age.

"If it's just a few galleons you wish to withdraw, Mr Potter," the goblin at the counter tried to oblige. "I can assist you myself."

"Urm, sorry, there is also something I need to collect. No disrespect, sir, but I think it's better if I see him in person," Harry replied.

"Very well, sir."

Some five minutes or so later, Garbhan, the Chief Banker himself greeted him politely and made a motion for Harry to follow him. They went through one of the many doors that sprang from the central hall and arrived at his office. The goblin made a gesture for Harry to take a seat. The place was covered in shelves. They were absolutely packed with catalogues on objects and with items of treasure. The fact that these seemingly valuable items were on display and not tucked inside a high security vault slightly surprised him.

"What a pleasant surprise, Mr Potter. How can I be of assistance?" started Garbhan.

"Well, I wanted to withdraw some galleons to buy a present but also..." Harry paused for a moment. "Urm, I believe you have my mother's wand in your custody. Dumbledore left it to me in his Will and I believe Hagrid placed it here."

"Ah, the wand..." murmured the goblin scratching the back of one of his pointed ears "Well, the wand, urm... it is not in your vault. We are offering this item our highest level of protection, as we indeed should." Garbhan's facial expression indicated that he was not particularly comfortable with this topic.

Harry remained silent, his green eyes locked onto the goblin's dark ones, waiting for a further explanation.

"The thing is, as I said, that Dumbledore stated specifically in his Will that I was to have it. Also, as you can well imagine, this holds for me a strong sentimental value and plainly and simply, I want to take it with me!" he said firmly not wishing to beat about the bush.

"Harry, now," Harry noted that he was now addressing him by his first name and he frowned wondering what was to come next. "I'll be honest with you, we have strict orders from the Ministry not to allow this wand to leave our premises," the goblin admitted sternly.

"The Ministry!" Harry yelled almost in a panic. "What does the Ministry have to do with my mother's wand!" he cried.

"Mr Potter, you must understand, we are just running a business, and we have to comply with ministerial instructions. We want nothing to do with wizarding politics. Experience has taught us better than to get involved!" exclaimed Garbhan in a bitter tone.

"I get it!" said Harry not sounding too impressed "This is another one of her little games, I'm well aware of the plans that Umbridge has made in respect of my inheritance."

The goblin coughed and tried to compose himself.

"You have to understand that the Ministry has no right to interfere with people's personal objects!" Harry continued. "I take it that the rest of the contents of my vault are still fully available?" he asked hoping to be reassured.

"Well, not exactly, Mr Potter. You can withdraw from it, yes, but not all of your gold at once, or immediately." The goblin was obviously trying to break the news in a soft way.

"Ok, let's clarify this," Harry was now clearly very angry. "If I remember rightly, it was you in person who invited me here only a few days ago to notify me, to my absolute shock, of the extent of my wealth. And now, you're trying to tell me, in a round about way, that no, I cannot dispose of it as I wish. Is that what you're saying?" Amazingly enough for someone who had just come of age, thought Garbhan, Harry could sound rather intimidating when he put his mind to it. The goblin hesitated.

"Well, you can take with you twenty percent today if you wish. I can assure you, Mr Potter that we do all we can to protect our customers, but ultimately, the Ministry has the power to take over Gringotts. This would destroy generations and generations of banking tradition, and we cannot give them a reason to do that," the banker tried to explain, half way between protesting and apologising.

"It seems to me that it is you who doesn't fully understand," Harry said assertively.

"That Umbridge woman is known for her hatred of non-humans, goblins included. She's vicious and she'll stop at nothing, she will take your treasure regardless of whether you back her schemes or not," Harry pronounced the word treasure slowly and he did so whilst purposely glancing at the proudly displayed trinkets.

"She will have you all killed if that is what it takes!" Harry concluded.

"Mr Potter, please listen to me!" shouted the goblin as if calling for order. "We are aware that you are one of our best customers, we have done more than is reasonable to protect your estate. For Merlin’s sake, hear me out!" he shouted again.

Then the goblin lowered his voice, reducing it almost to a whisper. "We have not told the Ministry the exact value of your estate, hence twenty percent is available to you. They have frozen your assets pending a new law that is about to come in, so we can't do any more. But maybe there are ways for you to prove your right to the Black estate, for instance. Also we gave you the credit card, did we not?" the goblin tried to justify.

"You did, but," Harry bit his lower lip really hard for want of something better to launch an attack on "that is no use in our world, is it? And what's more, how will that work exactly? I always assumed that the equivalent wizarding money to the amounts spent would be deducted from the contents of my vault. Now, if the Ministry has my vault, how is this going to work? Could you please explain this!" Harry exclaimed sounding incensed.

"Well, it would still come out of your vault," Garbhan mumbled in a low voice and at fast speed "only, if they attempt to take your vault, we will need to justify keeping it ourselves on the basis that we would have sent you an owl asking you not to use the credit card but that you have taken no notice and that we are out of pocket as a result," concluded the goblin showing a twinge of complicity in his dark smallish eyes.

"Ok!" Harry was now nearly laughing, chuckling in fact. "Alright, so I'm to become a fraudster of sorts. It's a good job then that I lived through my childhood not knowing that my parents had left me anything at all! Good job that I haven't had the time to get used to the high life!" he commented sarcastically.

"Mr Potter, please, calm yourself down!" Garbhan commanded.

"Ok, then, and what about the wand, Mr Garbhan? This is all I have left from my mother!" he protested.

It became clear to the goblin that Harry wasn't just going to leave without putting up a fight, even if a verbal one.

"I'm really sorry, sir, I know how you must feel about heirlooms, we goblins understand that. Put it this way, we are neutral in this conflict, which is a wizarding one. As you well know, one faction in your war seems to rally around your persona, to go and support you openly would mean as much to our neutrality as backing up You-Know-Who..." the Chief Banker reasoned.

"Very well, I'm grateful for what you've done but it's just not good enough. I know to you goblins, we wizards are just customers and trouble-makers at that, but at the end of the day you won't be able to stay neutral and they will take all you've got, mark my words!" With this, he attempted to walk out but then remembered that he couldn't possibly carry twenty percent of his estate with him through Diagon Alley and realised that some arrangement had to be made.

"Let's see…" said Harry, now trying to sound composed, before the goblin had a change of heart about the twenty percent. "You opened an account on my behalf with a Muggle bank to activate the credit card?"

"This is correct, sir," was Garbhan's answer.

"Ok, can you then, please, arrange for the amount available to me at present to be deposited on a Muggle current account with that bank under my name?" requested Harry.

"That would be in order, sir."

"Ok, that's settled then, minus of course, a little pocket money for my current expenses, which I will withdraw now. Also, can I convert Muggle money into galleons and sickles?"

"You can come to the counter, sir…. but if you are in breach of our terms, then, maybe you could get someone else to do this for you," replied Garbhan with a grin.

Without much ceremony, Harry proceeded towards one of the counters, collected some money and left.


Hermione had been looking at her watch for a while now. She knew it, something had gone wrong. Harry should have been back ages ago! As she ordered more coffee, he appeared and came to join her. It was still relatively quiet in the pub but he performed the Muffliatto charm anyway. Harry proceeded to explain what had happened at Gringotts. Hermione put her hand over her mouth horrified. She admitted that she had expected a possible problem with the wand but not with the money.

"But the legislation hasn't been passed through yet, Harry," she protested.

Harry went on to explain that that didn't seem to make a tiny bit of difference and decided that it was time to cheer up regardless and try to spend as much as possible with the Muggle credit card.

"Come on, don't be reckless!" advised Hermione "I think you better talk to my Dad, he'll know what's best for you to do," she volunteered.

"Thanks, Mione, but I think he has enough on his plate as it is without having to go worrying about my money, don't you? I'm more concerned about the wand, actually."

"I know Harry, you don't want to inconvenience anyone but look, I notice you seem to have this laissez faire attitude towards money," she said a bit worried.

He frowned not quite understanding the term.

"It's French, Harry, it means that you are too easy going really. I mean, my family are what Muggles call middle class, we have to work hard, you see, and we tend to invest... You are, well, upper class, I suppose, you see things differently," and she went a bit red when she realised what she had just said.

"Am I now?" Harry was laughing for the first time in a long while.

"Anyway, if that's what you want, I mean, splashing out, let's make a proper Muggle upper-class gentleman out of you!" she announced now cheerfully. "Follow me!"


They proceeded into Muggle London. They found a branch of Harry’s bank where they confirmed that, what Hermione considered a staggering amount had been transferred into Harry’s current account.  Harry politely rebuffed the teller's advice to put most of it in an investment account on the grounds that he would give that a thought at a later stage. However, he asked to open a safe deposit box, where he placed most of the wizarding gold he had withdrawn.

They boarded the underground at Charring Cross and went up the Bakerloo line as far as Oxford Circus where they joined the Jubilee for one stop up to Bond Street.

This area was heaving with activity, packed with shoppers, in contrast with the desertedness they had just seen in Diagon Alley. For good or ill, the Muggles seemed to be oblivious to the threats that, in Harry's knowledge, faced them as well. Harry wondered where they were going but decided that Hermione seemed to know what she was doing.

Finally in New Bond Street she stopped at the window of a most impressive establishment, Aspreys. Hermione pulled Harry by the sleeve of his jacket motioning for him to follow her.

A rather smart looking female staff member gave them both a strange look. Obviously, she was not accustomed to people their age, especially dressed in jeans, coming into their shop.

"We would like to see some emerald jewellery, something discreet, really," Hermione started.

"Anything in particular?" enquired the sales lady.

"Not really," Harry now took the lead to Hermione's approval. "Just show us a few things, I don't have anything specific in mind." Harry felt a bit like a fish out of water.

The lady went inside to pick up some samples. Hermione then whispered in his ear that emeralds were considered to be the stones of successful love. They also promoted friendship and serenity and helped with accepting one's path in life.

"I think it's a very good stone for both of you, actually. I reckon you should buy something for yourself too. I mean, not something girlie, you silly!" she added as she noted that Harry looked slightly horrified. We can take your item and hers to Opals and Rubies in Diagon Alley and get them enchanted, so that you can remain in tune with each other's emotions even when you are apart." she advised.

"Goodness, Hermione, you have done your research. I'm impressed!" said Harry wanting to give her a hug there and then.

The assistant got back armed with several trays of truly beautiful - if a bit ostentatious - pieces, and a couple of male colleagues. Harry and Hermione understood at once that she hadn't trusted them.

"Just something discreet," reiterated Harry "and no, the price tag is not an issue," he added in response to the lady's facial expression. "You see, we are not going to have the chance to go to many events this coming year, just something wearable, really."

"Fashionable but timeless," added Hermione hautily. "Ah, a pair of very discreet emerald cufflinks for the gentleman, please.”

“Oh, this is beautiful!” exclaimed Harry looking at a white gold bracelet encrusted with tiny emeralds. This is perfect in fact!” he decided.

The assistant placed the bracelet on Hermione’s wrist. It was impressive yet not at all over the top. Ginny was a sporty person who worn mainly casual clothes, she wasn't the showy type. “I agree, Harry, perfect!” she said.

“Now,” the sales woman simpered “if the lady would leave us in private for a moment.”

“That will not be necessary, ma’am, she is my friend, my advisor, you see,”

Hermione nearly choked when she heard the price. Harry indicated by eye contact that all was under control, that it was what he wanted. She shook her head in horror but let him be. The lady swiped the credit card through the machine. To her surprise, it was accepted. She smiled with relief as she hated embarrassing situations, but nonetheless double-checked his signature.

As they were about to leave, snowed under in brochures and discount vouchers, she smiled and said to him almost flirtatiously: “Sir, emeralds match the colour of your eyes.”

“So I’ve been told, madam,” Harry replied.


As they went back into the street, Harry hoped with all his heart that Hagrid had been able to arrange his other present, the one that didn’t cost money but that could mean so much.

Chapter 19: No Smoke Without Fire
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Molly Weasley welcomed Harry and Hermione back to Grimmauld Place by frowning disapprovingly without saying a word. She was tired of hearing how much she repeated herself by warning them about dangers. She was also unwilling to ask them too many questions when the Malfoy boy was around somewhere.

"We are back in one piece, Molly," Harry broke the ice, wearing the cheeky smile that almost always worked on her.

She shook her head and left knowing that, if she remained with them a minute longer, a lengthy reprimand would become inevitable.

Harry and Hermione went upstairs and found Ron in his room looking rather bored.

"You're back then?" said Ron stating the obvious. "Did you find what you wanted?" he asked lazily, still lying on the bed with his hands behind his head not making much of an effort to engage his friends, still a bit resentful about having been left out.

"Yes, and no, Ron, yes and no," replied Harry very sullenly.

"Harry has some problems and, one of them especially, could be a serious one for us all," added Hermione in even a more depressed tone.

The Muffiato charm was cast again. Harry realised that, these days, they held more conversations under it than not.

"They won't give me the wand, which, well, makes things just a little complicated," Harry begun to explain in an  ironic tone.

Ron finally sat up looking a bit perplexed. Hermione noticed this and answered his mental question by reminding him of why this was so important and how the Ministry was now in control of it. Ron now looked frustrated, in fact, rather incensed. Hermione unwittingly added to this emotion by going on to explain the problems concerning Harry's money.

"We'll have to break into Gringotts, Harry, there is no other option!" Ron stated in what he himself thought was a true Gryffindor fashion. "It's your bloody inheritance, mate. Your parents would not have been happy with this!"

"No, they wouldn't have," Harry agreed "nor is anyone else, and, believe me, I didn't leave Gringotts without putting up a fight." Harry did now sounded all gloomy and defeated.

"Ron, don't talk nonsense!" said Hermione, acting the Prefect, in reply to Ron's assertion. "No-one can break into Gringotts, it hasn't been successfully done before!"

"Yes, it has," Harry argued "In our first year, it was in The Prophet and all, it's just that what they were after was no longer there, don't you remember?"

"Ok, Harry, whatever!" snapped Hermione. "But dragons and everything!" she was now nearly crying as she suspected that her two friends were seriously considering this option.

"Dragons, did you just say dragons?" asked Ron, cheerful for the first time in a while.

"Well, guys, we have an expert in the family, don't we?" Ron continued. 

Hermione shot a stealthy look at him as if saying don't go there.

"And a code-breaker, an insider in fact," commented Harry before he realised that he couldn't put Bill through that for him, especially after all that had happened.

Harry's expression changed, his eyes weren't sparkly any more. Ron, without realising, read his body language and said: "He wouldn't be doing this just for you, mate, I mean, Bill. It's in everyone's interest that you get that damn wand!" Ron said full of excitement.

Hermione looked straight into Ron's grey eyes and said reproachfully "Don't call Harry's Mum's wand that! It saved his life, you know!"

Ron looked rather sheepish but Harry grinned and said "No matter, Hermione, we know he didn't mean it like that." He knew that Ron would never hurt his feelings by insulting anything connected with his late parents. "Relax ok?" he continued, "we all have lost some people in this war or the last, no need to walk on egg-shells with one another. Agreed?" Both Ron and Hermione meet Harry's bright green eyes in assent.

"Now, Malfoy," Harry changed the topic. "What's he been up to?"

"He seems to have been upstairs in his room all day. I don't think he likes our company much," answered Ron not too preoccupied.

"You should have kept an eye on him, Ron, just in case though," protested Harry a little bossily.

"I thought you'd gone soft on him after last night," mocked Ron as a kind of defence.

"I've got to talk to him, Ron. I only let him off the hook because I knew he meant it, well, the Vow. Also, I can't tell you but I think I know what he's going through and no, it's not just that his mother is dead..." Harry paused feeling a bit uncomfortable.

"You've got to tell us, mate. What the hell did you see? I know you did see something when we were coming down the stairs!" said Ron feeling once again left out.

"Ron, you two and Ginny are into every secret I know, but this is private to Malfoy. It's a bit like when Snape went inside my mind and saw how I'd seen my Mum's last moments. Even if he's a jerk, I wished I hadn't seen what I did. This is private to him as far as I'm concerned." Both of his friends now knew that whatever it was, it had really affected Harry, disturbed him in fact.

"Is it the way she died?" enquired Ron with curiosity.

"Umm..., in part, but no..." Harry really didn't want to go into details. This was a subject he was sensitive about.

Hermione's facial expression changed all of a sudden.

"You don't mean she is ghost, don't you, that she's haunting him? He said so himself, almost, didn't he, for what Ron told me?" she asked waiting for confirmation.

Harry threw a disapproving look in Ron's direction, then he held his hands up and stated: "I've said nothing!"

He had said nothing but they all understood.

Draco had dreaded that moment all day. Potter had let him go too easily and also in the sort of way that, only someone as arrogant as his father was supposed to have been, could muster. Something more was to come.

He was right. He heard one person's footsteps, then an impatient knock came to his door. It had to be Potter! Draco could hardly bother to answer. He just willed the nightmare away, his being there, the whole thing ... He felt oppressed, intruded upon and humiliated. He had to, somehow, make Potter go away. In fact, he had to get away himself... before he went mad! As far as he could see, his whole crime in this war was having been born to a Death Eater father, everything else had just followed.

Harry wasn't too abrupt, well aware that it wouldn't be his best policy. He simply called "Malfoy". When no reply came, he shouted a bit louder.

Draco, like in a dream, finally opened the door. He was feeling nervous, so was Harry.
Harry realised that Malfoy was smoking. Draco, instead of putting the cigarette out when he realised that his host had noticed, offered Harry one.

"Go on then," said Harry, now also sitting on the bed trying to appear approachable. "After all it's not as if I'm likely to live long enough to fear lung cancer!"

Malfoy could not but answer "Potter, aren't you sick and tired of gloating about your supposed destiny?"

"I wish it wasn't real, you know," he replied taking a light from a candle that Malfoy had conjured and coughing slightly "I wish your former Master wasn't after my blood! I didn't chose this destiny, as you call it," he added now gazing into Malfoy's pale grey eyes, awaiting his response.

"And by that, you mean that I did?" Draco answered defiantly.

"Not exactly, I don't believe for instance that you, yourself, volunteered to kill Dumbledore, but you chose to be a Death Eater, which in my book is almost the same thing," Harry retorted.

Malfoy now pierced into his eyes very intently, Harry could sense the anger that was building up inside his guest, the sheer impotence.

"Ok, but I didn't exactly chose to be born into my family, did I?" retorted Draco.

Harry smiled. He had been expecting that, that he would pass the buck onto his father, or whoever was there to be blamed. Or was he being a little too cynical again, like when he had doubted whether Narcissa was in fact dead?

"Oh!" exclaimed Harry puffing at the cigarette still not too convinced. "And I would have thought you were ever so proud of being a Malfoy," he said emulating a very posh accent, now pacing up and down the room.

"Go to hell, Potter, you are the one who doesn't understand! I'm proud of being a Malfoy, yeah, aren't you the one who keeps on going on about how great your father was, aren't you proud of being a Potter?" At this stage, Malfoy didn't dare take this any further. Harry took a deep breath and continued to listen.

"My mother, for instance, was a good woman. She was always kind and, for your information, she wasn't a Death Eater." Draco now paused and stood up but kept his gaze down. He couldn't let it out that he was feeling emotional. "Don't you bloody see that I haven't been too pleased with Voldemort since he killed her, regardless of what I may have been pushed into before? My father, well, thanks to you," he pronounced these words with utter spite, "is in Azkaban. I haven't been able to get in touch with him since before Mother died, so, I can't speak for his current allegiance but, you know mine. Also, I didn't exactly chose to become a Death Eater. It's something that happens in many pure blood families." Even in the circumstances, there was a hint of prejudice in Draco's voice when he mentioned pure blood.

Harry couldn't get himself to be completely unsympathetic but then again, he couldn't be weak either. He was feeling really drained.

"Alright, you can keep calling me Saint Potter if you like, fine, but I think I've been fair with you. I'll be honest, you're here because I didn't want your death on my conscience, but then again, I know more about you now..." Harry said staring at the ceiling, trying not to talk about Narcissa's ghost.

"You knew I had no choice but to ask for your help, how powerful does it make you feel, Potter? Is it a really satisfying feeling?" Malfoy said, curling his lip in hatred.

"Skip the crap, alright?" said Harry now feeling impatient. "I'm tired of this game, you're bloody wearing me out! Ok, let's get this established, we hate each other's guts, right?"

Draco kind of nodded.

They could go round and round in circles for ever but this would hardly lead them anywhere. The point of this conversation was finding out what Malfoy had been up to and anything he knew that may aid the Order.

"Now, where do we go from here, mate? Yes, I did called you mate, probably out of habit, big deal!" Harry tried to excuse his accidental use of the word.

Draco lit another cigarette.

"Look," Harry went for the soft approach again "lets set aside for a minute what you've done to me and my friends, what I've done to you back and what you were instructed to ... It's now all in the past."

Malfoy closed his eyes, greatly resenting what he viewed as Harry's condescending tone.

"Ok, let's get on with the business. We're not going to get on and I have better things to do, to be quite frank," said Harry's trying to get the conversation moving. "And, who would you rather have, me or Alastor Moody, asking you certain questions? I'm not a sadist, Malfoy, I consider myself a fair person, com'on! I've seen things in your mind you don't want me disclosing and that's fine. It's not blackmail, I know what you're about to say, but look at it this way, your mother is dead and so is mine, at the hand of the same person, you said it yourself! Join our side, if that's what you want, but you truly have to want it, and we really have to see that you are being honest with us," Harry concluded.

Draco said nothing.

"Look," said Harry as a last resort "it's simple, you know about one side, I know about the other, if we co-operate we may win, if we don't we'll probably both die, plain enough?"

Harry was now playing with his messy black hair. He felt restless. He begun to understand why Draco had taken up smoking after the Dumbledore episode.

Harry glanced at the packet of cigarettes. They were certainly Muggle. Ok, nice piece of information in terms of where he must have got the idea from, Harry thought.

"You've taken up smoking Muggle cigarettes. This, gives me the impression that you have lived as a Muggle at some point, and it's obvious to me that that must have happened this summer!" Harry thought he was now onto something.

"This is hardly exclusively a Muggle custom, is it? After all, Native American wizards were the first to come up with this," stated Malfoy trying to detract attention from the Muggle connection.

"So, I see you've done some reading," mocked Harry. "Shall I take it then that you have been offering me the ceremonial peace pipe? That you are offering the truth? I take it that you are familiar with the ritual's significance, about true words and actions, since it was you who tried to give me the History of Magic lesson?"

Draco nodded looking still very wary. Harry walked towards the table, picked up the packet of cigarettes and lit one up.

"Ok, then, but we have to pass it to one another. That's the way it was done, you see. Now, let's have the truth!" Harry started. "And, call me Harry, if you don't mind, They all do, well, everyone here, anyway," he added liking what he knew he had to do less and less by the minute.

"The Order doesn't trust you and I can't say I blame them. Well, cavorting with Snape and what not! But, before anything else, let's work out what's been happening since the Astronomy Tower." Harry now remained silent and passed the cigarette to Malfoy. He was ready to listen.

On entering her brother's and Harry's room, Ginny found Ron and Hermione arguing yet again. It became quite clear that the riff was centred on dragons. Dragons? Whatever on earth...! Once they both briefed her on the Gringotts' developments, she enthusiastically decided to join the pro-breaking-in faction, to Hermione's dismay.

They were all in agreement as far as the need for retrieving the wand, sooner rather than later, was concerned. However, they all had different views as to how to go about it. They knew Harry would refuse to coerce Bill into stealing it or into giving them the necessary information. They weren't even sure that Bill knew anything about its whereabouts, in any event. However, he was a code-breaker, he must be able to aid them in some way.

"I'll do it!" said Ginny looking very determined.

"Do what?" replied both Ron and Hermione in unison feeling suddenly scared. Ginny was capable of attempting most things if she put her mind to it!

"Persuade Bill, you morons! You weren't thinking I was going to tackle Gringotts on my own, did you? I have always been close to him. If my charm doesn't work, nothing will!" Ginny said, not trying to sound arrogant but coming across a little bit that way. "I'll go and have dinner with him one day this week, you know, to cheer him up. Then, I'll try to make him understand the importance of getting back the wand," she said as if it was that simple, gladly volunteering to play a role in their quest.

Hermione now intervened. "We are going ahead of ourselves here. There may be another way. After all, we are only sworn to secrecy with regard to the Horcruxes," she whispered. "I see no reason why we cannot discuss the wand predicament with the rest of the Order."

"We could do," accepted Ron, "but let's talk to Harry about it first. He's the one who made the promise and the wand is his Mum's after all."

What the three of them agreed on, was to send a message to Charlie asking for advice on dragons, just in case dealing with the creatures became unavoidable. Hermione had been a bit concerned at first, wondering what would happen if the owl got intercepted. She then, went onto suggesting they use a communication patronus instead. They decided that they would allow Ginny to approach Bill diplomatically and, if that didn't bear fruit, they would consider talking to the Order at large.

Malfoy was well aware that Harry could very easily get someone from the Order to force the truth out of him. Potter seemed to be acting with integrity, even if in his forever condescending way. The story about the Muggle priest was bound to come to light soon enough. He may as well tell him himself and get the brownie points.

Harry smiled as he listened. So, that was what Slughorn had been up to? A bit too impulsively, he conveyed to Malfoy the fact that the potions professor had actually been sighted in a Muggle church. Malfoy relayed that he had no knowledge whatsoever about this, and appeared adamant on this point. Harry tried, with some difficulty, to keep an open mind.

Slughorn must have been collaborating with Snape, Draco thought. Perhaps Harry had been right and they both had information that the other wished to know.

"Now, Snape," Harry proceeded. "What did the two of you do after you Disapparated from outside of Hogwarts?" His voice was unemotional, almost flat, despite the fact that he couldn't pronounce his former teacher's name without a powerful desire for revenge taking over his mind.

"He helped me," Malfoy replied without elaborating.

"Why do you think he did that?" This was like obtaining information with a corkscrew.

"Well, he made the Unbreakable Vow with my mother to protect me, he told me himself," said Draco a little proud of having been in the confidence of one of their teachers.

Harry nodded without disclosing that he already knew.

"Did you know he was going to kill Dumbledore?" Harry was now chasing to the kill.

Malfoy hesitated. He had to give Potter enough information to sound trustworthy but, surely, there was no need to go any further than that.

"I understand he had to do it himself, if, well... if I failed..." Draco blushed and looked downwards, unwilling to meet Potter's eyes. Even if it was in his interest to appear otherwise, we couldn't help but feel a bit ashamed of not having been able to finish the task.

"Now, are you aware at all of any other reasons why Snape may have done this?"

"No, I'm not," Draco replied dryly.

Harry was beginning to have enough of monosyllabic answers and what appear to be reluctant co-operation.

"Please remember that I have means of obtaining the truth. I trusted your offer, the ceremonial pipe, now, you better deliver the goods or I'll get Moody to ask you this himself," said Harry actually meaning to carry out the threat, if he had to.

Draco blushed again and replied in a whisper: "I think he may have loved my mother, I think that's why he made the Vow to her."

Harry now covered his eyes with his hands for a split second. This was turning into a Muggle soap-opera!

"You're telling me they were lovers?" Harry asked flabbergasted. “No wonder you’re so desperate for your mother’s business to be kept secret!”

Malfoy stood up and walked towards Harry as if about to throttle him.

“NO, THEY BLOODY WELL WEREN’T! Malfoy screamed, showing more anger in his eyes that Harry had ever seen in anyone.

“No more than he ever bedded your own mother, Potter! He had a thing for her as well, you know? It‘s bloody common knowledge!” Draco was quick to add, as if to make things even.

It was now Harry who felt about to kill, his heartbeat rising fast. Harry was in fact close to performing an Unforgivable at this point, however, sheer curiosity made him somehow calm down.

“Explain yourself!” yelled Potter. “Are you telling me that Snape told you all this, that he was using you as an Agony Aunt?

“Don’t be so damn idiotic! You ask anyone who knew them both at Hogwarts, Snape and your mother. Rumour has it that he asked the Dark Lord to spare her but that she was stupid enough to die for you instead, even if you weren’t really that worthy!”

Harry this time got hold of Malfoy and what had started as a civilised conversation quickly turned into a Muggle brawl. Harry grasped Draco's throat while Draco viciously punched him in the stomach. They were both so angry that neither of them thought for a second about grabbing a wand. Draco hit Harry again, so Harry retaliated by pushing Draco backwards and slamming his head against the wall.

Draco went limp and began groaning. Harry detached himself from his opponent. Malfoy fell onto the floor. Blood streamed from the back of Draco's head. He had gone very white.

True panic have now replaced Harry's angry feelings. He had never been very good with healing spells. He had to do something and he had to act fast. Everything had happened so quickly!  He hadn't really meant to cause him a serious injury. He suspected Malfoy might have a fractured skull.

First of all, Harry tried to bandage Malfoy's head with a towel he found in one of the drawers. He knew of the existence of a blood replenishing potion but he had no idea how to obtain this and he was sure Malfoy, as much as he himself, wanted to keep this incident as quiet as possible. Suddenly, inspiration came to him.

Harry drew his wand and Draco flinched, assuming he was about to be cursed.

"Episkey!" Harry shouted.

Malfoy took his hands to the towel in his head and sent Harry a look of real loathing, despite the fact that Harry was now trying to help.

"I didn't mean to hurt you like that, I'm trying to put it right, ok?" Harry explained, his voice still denoting panic.

"It will hurt for a while, I'm sure but I think it's done the trick. I've had more broken bones than I can count and I'm alright now, you see," added Harry.

Harry now realised that the reason why Malfoy had proceeded to insult his mother and himself, was because of how hurt he had felt. After all, Harry had put Narcissa's memory into jeopardy by suggesting she had been Snape's lover.

Looking now very serious, Harry said to him: "Ok, we both feel the same way about our mothers, don't we? Their killer is at large and I reckon we have better things to do that brawling like common Muggles!"

Harry extended his hand to Malfoy. Draco after a moment's hesitation accepted it.

Draco got up and went downstairs to the bathroom to clean off the blood. Harry promised him to try to get hold of a wound cleaning potion as secretly as he could.

When finally Harry got back to his friends, they had moved into the living room, but gave him a look that conveyed that they wanted to talk to him somewhere a bit more private.

“I too, have loads to tell you,” Harry whispered, and the four of them left and went upstairs again.

Chapter 20: Hogwarts Revisited
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Harry went to bed early that evening, before anyone else, except for Malfoy, who was feeling as miserable as ever and had a rather sore head.

Harry had told the Order briefly that he had started asking their guest questions, that matters were in hand. After explaining this, he had excused himself saying he wasn't feeling well and retired upstairs before Moody or anyone else could start up again. He wasn't in fact lying. He had eaten very little. A tight knot was oppressing his throat and his stomach and he felt a bit sick. He wasn't particularly proud of his altercation with Malfoy and, of course, something else was playing in his mind.

He had told his friends that they could tell the Order about the problem with his mother's wand but he hadn't wanted to take part in the discussion. This was a bit out of character for Harry since, normally, he was at the centre of most conversations. That night, he simply couldn't face it.

Malfoy's revelation regarding his mother having been Snape's love interest had knocked him off balance. On the one hand, he needed to find out for sure. On the other, what if she had actually reciprocated, perhaps before she got together with his Dad? The idea was just too scary. How did Malfoy know anyway? He would ask Lupin as soon as he could handle finding out.

The air in his room was rather hot and humid. He opened the window and laid on top of the bed without the energy or the desire to get undressed just yet.

The following day was Ginny's birthday. He had gone to great lengths to ensure that it was truly special. Whatever his troubles, they weren't Ginny's fault. He had vowed to himself to put everything on hold for the occasion, to try to make her happy.

He instinctively reached for the present he had bought for her. It was nicely wrapped in glossy paper. The bracelet itself, together with his cufflinks had now been duly enchanted by the wizarding jewellers, as Hermione had suggested. The effect of this was to warn the wearer if the other was in danger and to make them more empathic with each other's feelings. He clutched it in his hands and, for a minute, he allowed himself to day dream. However, within mere minutes, the mental strain he had been under finally took its toll and he fell soundly asleep.

He woke up early the next morning not feeling particularly rested. He thought about waking Ginny up with a birthday kiss, but decided he would let her have a lay in instead.

As he went downstairs into the kitchen, both Mr and Mrs Weasley went suddenly quiet. However, he had already overheard Molly going on about how children needed an education.

A decision must have been made about Hogwarts, Harry thought, distractedly looking at the unfinished birthday cake that Molly had obviously been making before the news had arrived.

"It seems that you've got your wish, Harry," said Mrs Weasley not looking particularly chuffed.

"You mean Hogwarts is not to re-open?" Harry's voice, contrary to what Mrs Weasley had anticipated, denoted concern. "I'm surprised the Ministry is admitting that it's not safe anymore!" he added glancing at Mr Weasley as if waiting for a comment.

"Well, the decision has been made by the Board of Governors, not by the Ministry," clarified Arthur. "The Ministry, of course, is never going to openly admit that proper protection cannot be put in place. The main reason that has been given is the difficulty in finding suitable staff for various positions."

"Yeah, like Defence Against the Dark Arts, I take it?" Harry mocked. "I bet Umbridge is not tempted to take this up again!"

"Harry, this is serious," said Molly looking at him like if he had been part of a conspiracy to keep the school closed.

"Mrs Weasley," he started, addressing her formally without thinking. He had recently been calling everyone by their first name. "I never wanted the school not to re-open, on the contrary! All I said is that I have a mission that I cannot put off. Ron and Hermione made their own decisions. You know me well enough to know that I wouldn't endanger other people out of my own volition, don't you?"

Molly hadn't expected this counter-attack. She glanced at him a little surreptitiously.

"Harry, if the school is not to re-open this year, you all will have to be educated at home. You're not my son and you're now of age. I have no authority over you. I can't prevent you from doing whatever it is that you have set your mind on doing. All I ask you, Harry, is to bear in mind that your mother died for you to live. We are with you in this war, but please do not throw away her sacrifice!"

She now looked at him almost with tears in her eyes

Not the emotional blackmail, please! Harry almost said aloud. 

"But she also fought Voldemort, Molly. What kind of son would I be if I didn't continue with the task? He will go on killing and torturing until someone brings him down!" he almost yelled.

"Have some breakfast, Harry, think things through properly," she suggested in an attempt to soothe his mood.

Mr Weasley looked at both of them with interest but decided not to take part in this just yet.

Harry also thought that it was best to let matters be for the time being.

"Is that cake for Ginny?" he asked stating the obvious in an attempt to change the subject.

"Yes, Harry, we'll have a little gathering later this evening, as we did for your birthday." Molly answered still looking worried.

Harry had an idea. If Ginny had invited people from the DA, he would have an opportunity to talk to some fellow students. Maybe he could get them to go back to the old self-teaching system. They could study together, but where? At Grimmauld Place? Hermione surely would not object to lending her very extensive notes to the people on the year below. Yes, they could continue in this way and be united. His class mates surely needed to further their defensive skills and also, perhaps they could be, even without knowing too much, of assistance in his quest. It was important, of course, that the people involved were trustworthy, but thinking about it, only one member of the old Dumbledore Army had proved not to be in their fifth year. Maybe he could persuade some of the actual Hogwarts teachers to help; not that he could offer to pay them though, since he was now technically broke. His imagination was now running fast.
He was going to see Hagrid in a few hours. He could ask his opinion on this.

Hermione woke up before Ginny. She knew it was her birthday and instantly thought about what her reaction to Harry's present would be. He had spent such a vast amount of money, especially now that he wasn't rich any longer in actual legal terms! He definitely was taken with the girl!

Hermione next thought about herself and Ron. She had been lecturing Harry about messing around with other people's emotions, and yet her own relationship was far from perfect. Ron and she were just so different but still, the feelings were there. They argued all the time, but why? Was he too laid-back, was she too bossy? Well, we all have flaws, she thought, and on this note she proceeded to open the mouldy looking curtains and let the light come in.

Almost immediately after, there was a tap on the window.

"Ginny, Ginny, Happy Birthday!" said Hermione enthusiastically. Ginny thanked her and they shared a cuddle.

"Look, there is an owl for you," Hermione said excitedly.

With all recent events, she had almost forgotten about her OWL results, thought Ginny as she recognised the bird as belonging to Hogwarts.

Hermione noticed this too.

"Come on, girl, be brave, get dressed and open it downstairs with your family!" Hermione encouraged. "I know it’s nerve wracking!"

Ginny gave the owl some nuts and decided to take Hermione's suggestion. She quickly slipped into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and proceeded down the stairs with anticipation. There would be time to dress more glamorously later on. She couldn’t wait.

“Happy Birthday, my baby!” said her mother as they came down the stairs. She left the kitchen table and gave her a hug so strong that it almost squeezed the life out of the girl.

“Happy Birthday!” Harry and Mr Weasley also exclaimed. Harry wanted to kiss her so much, but not in front of her parents. No, that wouldn’t do.

“I think I have here the results of my OWLs!" Ginny announced. "Mind you, since they can’t be any worse than the twins’! I guess I'll still be your daughter no matter what!” she joked in what would appear to be rather high spirits. Deep down, although she wasn’t as nervous as Hermione had been when she received hers, she was a little worried.

Mrs Weasley felt a bit nervous too. She was clearly fretting.

“Go on, open the letter. Let’s see if you can beat your brother Ron and me!” Harry teased.

Ginny smiled at Harry but, when she looked at her parents, realised that something was troubling them. She plucked up courage nonetheless and proceeded.

“OK,” she simply said, taking a quick glance and passing the piece of parchment to Hermione, expecting her to read the details aloud for her, suddenly becoming too nervous to do it herself.

At that stage, Ron surfaced from upstairs. Harry had woken up much earlier than him. “So you got your OWLs?” Ron asked with curiosity.

“Wow, Ginny,” Hermione was excited. “You got nine! Let me see; Outstanding in Charms and Potions, Exceeds Expectations in Transfiguration, DADA, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy. Acceptable in Divination and History of Magic! No fails at all!”

Ginny blushed at the end of Hermione’s recital and said, “Well, I believe you got eleven, and they were all Outstandings!”

Hermione blushed even further than her friend.

There was a round of applause. Molly Weasley was clapping frantically.

Arthur Weasley waited a little so as not to spoilt the moment but, then, proceeded to inform his children about the news on Hogwarts.

“Well, at least, all my children have got some qualifications...” sighed Molly.“Even if some of them are not intending to go all the way!" she added frowning and looking in Ron and Harry's direction.

Taking advantage of Mrs Weasley’s emotional state and the fact that there were a number of people in the kitchen to distract her, Harry led Ginny by his hand to the abandoned shed at the rear of the back yard. He kissed her passionately and said: “Ok, ready for a surprise?”

Ginny closed her eyes and threw her head backwards against the wall. She placed her arms around Harry's neck and returned the kiss impatiently, impetuously savouring every second of it.

“What’s the surprise then?” she asked him wearing a great big grin.

“We are going to Hogwarts, Gin, to see Hagrid,” he replied grinning back with complicity. I have bought something for you also, but I’ll give it to you later, at the party. You’ll just have to wait and see...” he added mischievously.

“Hogwarts? Hagrid? Whatever you have in mind?" she asked letting a cheeky smile show. "Also, how are we going to get away from my mum and how are you planning to get us there?”

“I’ll just announce that I’m taking you out for the day, which is what I’m doing anyway,” he said matter-of-factly. “Your dad is here still, so we better do it before he leaves for work. With a bit of luck, he'll come on our side! Then you’ll just have to side-along Apparate with me to Hogsmeade. Hagrid is meeting us there. 

After encountering the expected degree of resistance from Mrs Weasley who was, as usual, concerned about their safety, they Apparated to The Three Broomsticks and were greeted by Hagrid who was obviously very pleased to see them.

Hagrid immediately wished Happy Birthday to Ginny and bought them both a Butterbeer. Then, he placed an unskilfully wrapped packet on top of the table and invited Ginny to open it. It was a book on unicorns and legends. Someone must have told him they were her favourite creature, she thought glancing at Harry.

"I'll take yeh ter see the real thing soon, but be polite ter them, they're shy, yeh see," said Hagrid.

"Is it true that only maidens can approach them?" Harry asked.

"Well, it depends, 'arry. They prefer girls, but yeh never know. The thing is there are in the season when they shed their horns, so they may be a little touchy at the moment, jus' let them come ter yeh," Hagrid explained.

"So, this was the surprise! Thank you so much! So, we are going to the Forbidden Forest?" asked Ginny excitedly.

"Shush," said Hagrid taking his finger to his mouth "I'm not supposed to take kids there."

"We're not kids anymore!" protested both Harry and Ginny.

"So, Hagrid, what's happening with Hogwarts? We heard the news just earlier," started Harry.

"I'll tell yeh about it later." Hagrid replied lowering his voice and looking rather sad.

"You better be careful, Hagrid," said Harry looking preoccupied. "With Umbridge now as Minister. Well, you know how she treated you when she was in charge of the school. I think it may be best if you come to stay with us for a while."

"But, who would look after Grawp? I can't take 'im there, can I?"

Harry and Ginny shuddered but stayed silent. No, the prospect of having Grawp living at Grimmauld Place didn’t seem very appealing.

“Can the teachers remain living at the castle? I mean Trelawney, for instance, may be in danger,” Harry wanted to know.

“No-one has said that we can’t jus' yet, but let’s go ter my hut. We’ll talk more in there. I‘ve made yeh some cakes,” Hagrid said pressing on.

Hagrid had brought with him a couple of spare brooms and they flew to his hut by the edge of the Forest.

Fang greeted them with an extremely loud bark.

“Steady, now, you know Harry and Ginny!” Hagrid’s words to the dog seemed to have had the desired effect because Fang now laid peacefully under the kitchen table.

They sampled some of Hagrid’s home-baked cakes more out of politeness than appetite.

“I was just thinking that since the students are now to be home-schooled we may as well set up our own study group,” started Harry looking into Hagrid’s eyes for feedback.

“But where, Harry? Not a bad idea, thou',’” replied their former teacher.

“I dunno, maybe Grimmauld Place,” Harry volunteered.

“Would that be sensible though? I mean, it’s Headquarters, in'it?”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” contributed Ginny.

“What about somewhere in Hogsmeade?” Harry suggested.

“But it’s up ter the parents, in'it, what the kids do? How would they travel there? Many can’t Apparate jus' yet.”

“Umm... I was just thinking about the older groups, sixth and seventh years mainly, but, yeah, good point. I bet someone like Lupin would be prepared to teach us, don’t you think?”

“Yeh can’t but ask him, I suppose. I’ll be glad to help yeh, but yeh can't have creatures back at Grimmauld Place. I could teach yeh theory thou,” Hagrid offered.

"Thanks, Hagrid," said Harry sincerely but now thinking about the transportation problem.

“Now, I better take yeh ter see the unicorns. I’ll come with yeh to show yeh the paths, then I’ll leave yeh. Don't want to intrude,” Hagrid told them with a knowing grin on his face.

The Forest didn’t seem as daunting by daylight as it was at night, especially not in Hagrid’s company. However, there were certain creatures such as Aragog’s family they weren’t particularly keen on crossing their path with.

They walked deeper and deeper into the greenery. The light was almost beginning to recede. It had started to rain very finely. It was refreshing though. Harry took a deep breath. The air smelt of summer and of moist earth. For some reason, he felt light, pure and free.

“There is one!” spotted Ginny excitedly.

“Wow, yeah!” exclaimed Harry in a low voice as if frightened of scaring off the unicorn.

Ginny moved forward towards the animal. Harry realised it was just like the one he had seen in his dream. How amazing! 

The unicorn also moved towards her slowly. Hagrid winked at her as if saying that it was safe to touch him and silently went back in the direction they had come.

Ginny stroked the animal with a little apprehension. The creature seemed friendly enough. Suddenly, she felt this strong desire to ride it. The unicorn kneeled. Harry, completely in awe at the animal’s behaviour, walked towards them. Something magical was happening. It was as if he knew that he was welcome too.

They both rode the unicorn exactly as it had happened in his dream. After the most joyful ride of his whole life, he felt at peace, as if a positive force had enveloped them. That had to have meant something!

After a while, the unicorn stopped by a tree as almost indicating that their time now was up. They dismounted and witnessed what they had never seen before, a unicorn shedding his horn against an ancient oak. It looked at the couple with its beautiful dark eyes which contrasted perfectly with the silvery whiteness of his coat. For a second, both teenagers thought that it was offering its discarded horn to them. Harry and Ginny looked at one another mesmerised. Without knowing why, Ginny took the horn in her hand and passed it on to Harry.

The rain had now stopped and the couple looked at the sky in awe. A rainbow had appeared and the unicorn had gone back into the depths of the Forest as if the rainbow itself had been guiding his trot.

Back in Hagrid’s hut, they related to him what they had just experienced. Hagrid indicated that it wasn’t at all common for a unicorn to act like that.

“They’re such shy creatures,” he commented rather perplexed.

“It was as if it was giving us the horn!” Ginny explained.

“Unicorn horn is a very powerful substance.” Hagrid told them. It’s used in healing potions, it’s a known antidote to many venoms. Frightfully expensive thou', 21 galleons per horn in Diagon Alley!”

“It’s also very rare that they let a male approach them, never mind riding them, Harry, but of course yeh are special...” Hagrid continued

“What do you mean I’m special?

“Well, yeh survived, didn’t yeh and no-one quite knows how, Harry. Yeh have a good soul, yeh see. Yeh must have been meant ter live, dunno, but I never seen the like! So, he let you ride him?” Hagrid went on as if trying to piece the puzzle together.

Harry was even more mystified now. Also, he had never been very comfortable with the notion of being anything other than an ordinary wizard.

After a nice warm cup of tea and a friendly chat, Harry and Ginny were ready to depart for Hogsmeade, from where they would Apparate back to Grimmauld Place.

The silhouette of the castle dominated the surroundings majestically. The doors were now closed to all students. Harry would have liked so much to go inside once again, but that was not possible. With a slight trepidation, and holding Ginny's hand, they circumvented the place. They stopped by the lake for a few minutes, memories flooding back. Even as they were leaving, he felt the need to look back and contemplate nostalgically the place that had been his true home all those years, the place to where he didn't even know if he would ever return.

By the time they got back to Grimmauld Place, the house was fully decorated. As on Harry's birthday, the twins have taken care of the festive enchantments. Various people from Hogwarts started to arrive. It was the first time after the wedding that they saw some of their class-mates.

The gathering wasn't a huge one mainly due to the Order's need for secrecy, even if the building was still under the Fidelius Charm. However, many of the people in the trio's year had now become full members. Augusta Longbottom had been only too happy to let her grandson join. Luna had done this too and so had many others like Hannah Abbot and even the Patil twins, who had done so despite their parents' concerns.

Harry brought up briefly the idea of forming a study group. All of the DA members seemed keen to reunite and expected Harry to teach them as he had done back in their fifth year. He explained that he was far too busy but that Professor Lupin would be much better than himself. This met with everyone's approval.

Harry then spoke to Remus, who said he would be happy to teach, as long as it did not conflict with his Order duties. They had all agreed to further communicate via the enchanted coins they had used two years back.

Mrs Weasley had been cooking for the best part of the day. A really large buffet was laid in front of them. The residents of Grimmauld Place, minus Malfoy, together with the guests went up to the drawing room where Remus Lupin was about to magically open a bottle of champagne.

Ginny went upstairs to get changed. Her mother followed her and surprised her with a most beautiful green satin cocktail dress that she had made herself. It was simple, yet elegant, and in contrasted perfectly with the colour of her hair. Ginny looked at her mirror reflection and kissed her Mum on the cheek with sincere gratitude. Molly even allowed her to use a bit of make-up to complement the look.

Ginny finally made her entrance into the drawing room. Harry looked at her speechless.

She then proceeded to open her many presents, starting with those from her fellow students. She hadn't expected so many! Even the Patil twins had brought her a silk wrap from India, where they had spent part of the summer.

Her parents and brothers had clubbed together to buy her a new broomstick – a Nimbus 2001. It was not quite so fast as Harry’s Firebolt but rather a good one. The trouble was that, if Hogwarts was not to re-open that year, where was she supposed to practice Quidditch? Mr and Mrs Weasley had realised this but had given it to her anyway, saying that if she wanted to exchange it for something else, she might be able to. They all looked at bit sad thinking on these notes.

The twins had, of course, also secretly provided a number of their latest and most outlandish inventions. Hermione had thought it would be interesting to introduce her gently to Muggle literature and had bought her a copy of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." She had written a note to say that the heroine in the book reminded her a bit of her.

“What are we to do about Malfoy?” Ginny asked Harry, feeling a little sorry for the guy, realising that she had completely forgotten about him being there.

“I’ll ask him if he wants to come, but I doubt very much he will,” Harry replied as he went up the stairs also to collect his own present. Then he stopped for a minute and decided to bring him a glass of bubbly, out of politeness if nothing else.

Draco had heard music and noises and had of course realised that some celebration was taking place. He had felt tempted to take a secret peek on whatever was going on but had decided against it. He was neither in the mood nor ready to meet up with his host's friends.

When Harry entered his room, Draco simply accepted the drink and said thank you in a dry tone of voice. He did not particularly feel up to facing the DA crowd but, on the other hand, he knew he would have to face people sooner or later.

“Look, there is some news you may be interested to hear, like the fact that Hogwarts is not to re-open next term, Not that it matters to you much since you are in hiding in any case. I just think it would be polite of you to have a drink with us. It would also prove courage on your part, come to think of it!” Harry reasoned.

"Potter, you claim you care about my safety and now you are trying to reveal my whereabouts to all and sundry!" Malfoy cried.

"Come off it! The house's location can only be disclosed by me. I'm the Secret Keeper, you see. Anyway, all the people invited are members of the Order, they know better than going blabbing to the Death Eaters!"

“As you wish,” Draco replied trying to sound disinterested but being in fact nervous at the reception that he might get from his school-mates, yet realising that Harry was right, that it would prove courage. This could be a chance for him to appease the only people who, apart from Snape, given the turn of events, could ever be on his side.

Meanwhile, Ginny had briefly told her friends that Malfoy was now living with them since his mother had been killed by Voldemort and he was in serious danger. Everyone apart from Luna appeared greatly shocked. Neville certainly didn't know quite what to make of it. Ron's facial expression indicated his strong opposition to handing Malfoy an invitation to his sister's birthday party. The adults awaited his entrance with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.

Harry led the way downstairs with a reluctant Malfoy in tow.

"Ok, guys. Our surprise guest!" he announced a little sarcastically.

"I don't expect you to welcome him after what he did but, please consider the fact that he didn't volunteer himself to kill Dumbledore and that he didn't actually do it. He tells me that he is now in our side, so let's give him a chance, shall we?"

Everyone looked at Harry as if they had just been struck with something heavy in the head. Harry then raised his own glass and toasted: "To our common goal, to Voldemort's demise!" The adults and the other youngsters partook in the toast but were definitely speechless. Harry toasted with Draco looking intently into his pale grey eyes, trying to read his reaction.

Malfoy kept himself very much to himself and went to sit on his own on a chair by the window. Ginny pretended that nothing had happened and proceeded to open the rest of the presents with a cheerful disposition.

When only Harry's remained, he covered her eyes with his hands, and took a parcel out of his pocket. Ginny’s fingers unwrapped it really fast. The quality of the box itself revealed that the contents must be something really expensive. The adults were definitely now also paying attention. She opened it, and her eyes lit up.

“Oh, Harry, it’s beautiful!” She exclaimed.

Harry had been feeling extremely nervous. Perhaps he had gone too over the top. He had thought that maybe she wouldn't want to accept something like that from him, so soon in their relationship.

But before he could allow any more fears to enter his mind, he had the answer. Not caring who was there, Ginny placed the bracelet in her wrist, surrounded Harry with her arms and kissed him for what seemed the longest time ever. He felt incredibly relieved.

Malfoy pretended not to be interested, when in fact he couldn't help but make a gesture, as if saying how tasteless such displays of wealth truly were.

All the others, could not but notice how perfectly the bracelet matched her dress and
how she seemed to glow.

Mrs Weasley, at that point, came nearer to Ginny to have a better look at the gift. Harry could have sworn that she didn't look pleased. She made a motion for Harry to come with her.

"Harry," she started in a tone that made him feel uncomfortable. "There is no doubt you have spent an absolute fortune on this!"

He gazed straight into her eyes as if confirming this and then admitted, "Molly, she deserves it. I have acted like an idiot with her. I hurt her, although I didn't mean to. I tried to keep away, for her safety but it's just..." he couldn't quite get himself to finish the sentence but finally muttered "... just… that, I love her!"

"You are too young for that, Harry. You're trying to run before you can walk. How do you know that you will still want to be with her when you grow up? You are both still at school. In, say, years to come I would be delighted if the two of you, well... but Harry you are acting like you can't wait to get engaged or something!" she said blushing strongly.

"Molly, we have been through this a thousand times! I tried not to be with her, partly because I may die soon. I have tried not to be with her but I just can't do it! I can't", Harry protested feeling very emotional. "She has made up her mind and is aware of the dangers. I just know she is the one!" he tried to explain, his eyes now becoming humid.

"I can't be angry with you long, Harry. You got a knack to get away with murder with me! I can see you feel for her and that you have a noble heart." Molly paused for a minute. "It's just that you have this tendency to play the knight in shining armour, which leads you into trouble more often than not!"

He smiled at her, realising now that she wasn't that angry after all and went back to Ginny and to the party

Chapter 21: Rendezvous
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The man from the Ministry looked upwards in awe.

Mere moments before, he had been admiring the vastness of a lake crowned by mountains, actively breathing in the freshness of the place, almost failing to note how near he must have been to him…

All he had been able to make out on top of the highest peak were the ruins of a Medieval castle. These were now so scarce and scattered that it had become apparent that not even archaeologists bothered with the place anymore. He had, however, realised what it was; a concealed fortress that was not just out of reach for Muggles, but for wizards as well. Without further ado, he had waved up his wand, forming with it the Arithmancy sign for infinite. The password had, at that point, been given, straight to his mind. He pronounced it slowly and decisively without allowing himself neither to convey nor to feel any emotion. He waited.

He had Apparated to secret co-ordinates and had truly no idea where he was geographically, but Scotland or Cumbria could have been a good guess. All of a sudden, a mist from out of nowhere swallowed his surroundings, an impenetrable fog that chilled his every bone and brought about a dramatic change in temperature.

He looked up and, in front of his eyes, was this amazing frozen structure, in the style of the highest possible Gothic, with its pointed arches and vaults, flying buttresses and narrow spires, all of which appeared completely carved in ice. Encircling it was a ditch so deep that it could very well connect with the entrails of the Earth.

He knew at this moment that he had to fly to its highest turret. How the sign had come, he wasn’t really sure. He just knew it was the only way in. The wind was blowing a gale, even if it was theoretically August. He took hold of his broom and braced himself for the trip. His goal was so high up in the sky that the sensation of vertigo almost threw him off balance. He flew as rapidly as he could possibly muster, never looking down, never tempting fate. He knew the Dark Lord well enough to gather that falling into the ditch would not be a good idea.

Finally, he arrived. A podgy little man was there to greet him, his small malicious eyes observing his every facial move.

“My Lord expects you,” he said somewhat importantly.

The newcomer simply nodded and followed him.

“Descendo!” shouted Pettigrew and, before the Ministry official had the chance to even look around him, both men were swirling at great speed, enveloped in a force greater than the fiercest hurricane. Within minutes, they arrived in what appeared to be the Great Hall.

Impressively enough, everything in the room seemed also made of ice, save for the open fire positioned in the centre, which, predictably, did not have the effect to melt, nor to damage the castle or its contents. Ice! Ice was after all a natural preservative; it maintained things intact, even if not immortal.

Voldemort was there waiting, sitting by the fire. His slit eyes glared at his guest implacably and disdainfully. The visitor could not maintain his gaze but tried to remain calm, to cast away his fear.

“Mr. Weasley, you have finally arrived!” started the vaguely human wizard in what struck the other fellow as a slightly mocking tone.

“My Lord?” replied the Ministry envoy adjusting his horn-rimmed spectacles.

“So the Ministry is paying its respects at last, I take it?” commented Voldemort with a twisted smile. “Does Umbridge know you are here?”

“Yes, my Lord,” Percy answered in an almost military fashion.

“Aren’t you a bit too young for this kind of mission? And coming from a family with such fine credentials as yours…” continued Voldemort casually caressing his famous pet snake, which was coiled at his feet.

At that point, Bellatrix Lestrange almost chuckled with laughter.

“My relatives, my Lord, may very well be blood-traitors. I am not. As you may very well be aware, it was some time ago that I cut all ties with them,” he explained confidently.

“Well, well… what have we here, an ambitious Weasley!”

Bellatrix then snorted.

“And what about your little sister? Have I been misinformed? Is it not true that she’s become Potter’s whore?”

“At this moment in time, I can assure you that I have no idea,” retorted the young man dispassionately.

“Well, you better find out then,” Voldemort said sarcastically. “You may prove, after all, to be useful,” he went on, looking as if thinking things through. Am I to assume that you are aware of the address of the Order’s Headquarters?”

“Yes, my Lord, but… but," he said in a low voice, "I’m not Secret Keeper. I cannot reveal that…”

“That much I understand,” the Dark Lord replied irritated, feeling patronised. “However,” he paused, looking at Percy intently, trying to instill some fear into him, “you can yourself go there, can you not?”

“I suppose, my Lord, but… but they just wouldn’t trust me. They are aware of my loyalty to the Ministry…” Percy did now feel deeply uncomfortable.

“So? Voldemort replied arrogantly. “Your own father also works for the Ministry, I believe.”

“Yes, but I know from good sources that he wasn’t too impressed with Dolores’ appointment,” he reasoned.

“And why would that be?” 

“Because he suspects the Minister’s loyalty to your cause, to our cause…my Lord,” he quickly rectified. “In her year at Hogwarts she also seemed to manage to gain Potter’s mistrust, which doesn’t really help.”

“Speaking ill of your superiors also, Weasley? Well, well, I can see that your desire for glory knows no boundaries.” 

“I wasn’t speaking ill, my Lord,” replied Percy apprehensively. “I, however, believe that there were some mistakes, that she became too exposed,” he explained.

“And you claim you can do better?”

“I will certainly try, my Lord.”

“How exactly are you going to make me trust you when you are clearly willing to betray your own family and go against your employers? Why should I assume your loyalty to me? "

Percy thought for a split second. He had known from the beginning that that question would be posed and, yet, a satisfactory answer still eluded him.

“Because I admire your greatness, my Lord, and despise weakness, and because I share your feelings with regards to blood purity,” he finally replied.

The Dark Lord now smiled scornfully.

“Come on, Weasley, anybody could claim that.” 

“Also, my Lord, I did never divulge that Crouch Senior was under your command,” Percy timidly added.

“Very well, would you come to my ranks, if I chose to accept you? Will you take the Dark Mark?” Voldemort tried to test him.

“I would, gladly,” Percy told him at once. “However, would this be wise if I am to spy for you? It isn’t always something easy to hide.”

“You are clever, after all. Very good copping off strategy, interesting…Yes, Weasley, you have guessed correctly. I want you to report back to me who I can and cannot count upon at the Ministry and, of course, I want you to make up with your family,” Voldemort coldly announced.

“Most of them will not trust me, my Lord. I have already…” Percy Weasley mumbled in protest.

“Let's start with the weakest, shall we?  Who would that be, young fellow?” The Dark Lord’s expression was now one of mild amusement. “Would that not be your mother?”

Percy suddenly went pale and he could hardly conceal it. Making his mother suffer had been the hardest part. Yes, he had to concede that she would be prepared to welcome him with open arms. Still he hesitated.

“Potter has got her wrapped around his little finger, though, you know, the poor little orphan boy thing,” mocked Percy, attempting but failing to avoid sounding as if he was in fact trying to make excuses, to find loopholes.

“Yes, the poor little orphan boy who is sleeping with her daughter! She will not be happy with him when she finds out!” exclaimed Voldemort smiling malevolently.

“Are you sure about that, my Lord, that they are actually lovers?” enquired Percy trying, once again, to sound indifferent.

“Well, if they are not at the moment, it is only a small matter of time but, no worries, this suits me fine, in fact. Potter is just pathetic, he is so weak!” the Dark Lord continued, “unable to control the demands of the flesh!”

On hearing that comment, Bellatrix Lestrange glanced at the Dark Lord timidly, almost as if she were begging his approval. He, however, appeared to ignore her.

Percy agreed with his Master’s comments but didn’t dare enquire into the matter further.

“So, your orders for me are, My Lord?” Percy asked hoping to conclude the meeting, wishing to get away as rapidly as he could.

“Must I repeat myself over and over, Weasley? I was under the impression that you do have a brain!” mocked Voldemort.

“So, apart from keeping an open eye at the Ministry, I’m to contact my mother?” Percy summarised, holding down his gaze.

“Yes, Weasley, indeed, it has taken you long enough to arrive at this conclusion! Ah, and before you go, the Ministry, I believe, is in possession of Lily Potter’s wand. I want that brought to me, as a matter of urgency!” The Dark Lord now felt rather agitated. “Do not give me a reason to punish you!”

This being agreed, Percy was escorted back to the point to which he had originally Apparated.

Shortly after Ginny’s birthday, Hermione had returned to her father’s house in Kent. There were certainly enough puzzles she could help her friends with. Still, her father needed company, she had reasoned. She couldn’t help but feel that it had been her involvement in the wizarding world that had caused her mother’s death in the first place. Yet, she could not allow herself, nor Harry or anyone else, to take the blame. It was Voldemort’s fault and the Death Eaters’. No-one else’s!

Will Granger had gone back to work almost immediately after his wife had died. It had been hard, very hard, to go back to the practice which they had run as partners, but sulking at home alone hadn’t seemed to him a better prospect either.

They lived in a smart house in the Sevenoak suburbs. It wasn’t exactly grand but wasn’t small either. Jane Granger had always kept the place in good order, even though she had worked full-time. She had always had an eye for interiors and the furnishings were tasteful. The garden had always been Hermione’s favourite retreat. It was large and fairly private, with a nice patio area where she remembered having enjoyed many informal dinners with her parents and their friends. She was fond of those memories but she couldn’t help but feel quite sad.

Her father had welcomed her with a hug, a big smile, a home made Greek salad and a chilled glass of wine. There were now sitting outdoors and the mood looked relaxed. However, there were, not surprisingly, underground currents and unexplored feelings. The grass had grown quite considerably and was beginning to look slightly unkept. She knew, only too well, the reason why.

Mr. Granger wasn’t a particularly talkative person, more of an introvert. He was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, however, he transmitted a certain sense of warmth and, despite this, his sadness was also showing through.

Hermione’s first piece of news to her father was that Hogwarts was not to re-open that term. Will Granger expressed disappointment on her behalf and, although he wondered very much what his daughter’s plans were, he didn’t feel it was right for him to push the issue. Hermione knew what she had to eventually say that she wouldn’t be staying home for long, that they were on a mission and a dangerous one! But that could wait until later. She would just have to deal with this topic with care.

“Dad, I was wondering,” she started, taking a small sip of wine. “I was wondering if I could ask for your advice, on Harry’s behalf.”

“Sure, sweetheart, well, of course, although, I’m not sure how I can help, without knowing about magic,” he replied slightly surprised.

“It’s not about magic. In fact, it’s about Muggle finances,” she said not knowing where to begin. “He doesn’t actually want me to trouble you, but I think that he could do with suggestions. Well, the thing is that he did actually inherit a vast amount of money, a shocking sum, in fact. It would appear that his parents and godfather were, well, millionaires. Now, I’m very worried about him on various levels. Firstly, he seems to disregard the value of money, like if it’s not important,” she paused for a moment.

“I imagine that after what the poor chap has lived through, he is probably just glad to be alive, to have good friends. Also,” Mr. Granger reflected, “he has learned the hard way that no amount of wealth will bring his loved ones back,” he concluded.

“Sure…” Hermione assented in a taciturn mode.

“But also,” Hermione continued now almost a little angry, “he’s taking the word generosity almost to an extreme! I mean, goodness, he bought his girlfriend jewellery from Aspreys, although I must confess, I’m being a hypocrite because I took him there. Honestly, Dad, I don’t know what got into me!”

Mr. Granger did now practically laugh out loud. “You took the kid to Aspreys? They are the most exclusive jewellers in London! Goodness!

“Well, I thought he needed cheering up. He had been hurting Ginny by going hot and cold, by denying his feelings even to himself, and he felt guilty about it,” Hermione blushed a bit and looked apologetic.

Her father grinned again very widely.

“Also, you remember me telling you about that awful teacher we had in fifth year? Well, listen to this, she is now Minister of Magic and has actually frozen his assets!”

Mr. Granger frowned not following completely. “But, how can she do a thing like that? I’m sure the Magical world has rules, safeguards to prevent such a travesty from happening?”

“The thing is, our world is in such disarray! She is basically a dictator, and of the worse possible kind! She had passed through obscure legislation which, although it will affect others and not just Harry, touches him very directly. Even Mr. Weasley thinks that this is no coincidence. Harry is very famous and really influential, you see. I reckon she expects him to follow in Dumbledore’s footsteps. We gather she is afraid that he will use his money to raise an army.

“Sorry, let me follow this. How come? Well, how could he spend so much if he is virtually dispossessed?” asked Mr Granger feeling rather confused.

“Well, the goblins at the bank gave him a Muggle credit card, and a practically unlimited one,” Hermione at that stage relied to her father what Garbhan had suggested, that he uses the card in breach of the terms of engagement.

“But by doing that,” Will Granger said concerned, “he is virtually becoming an outlaw,”

“Well, for him it is either that or losing the whole lot altogether,” Hermione replied shaking her head. “He needs to act and fast. That’s why I’m asking you! He needs to take what he can and invest it somehow!”

“How old is he exactly?” enquired Mr. Granger still thinking things through.

“Seventeen, Dad, he’s just of age.”

“Of age in your world, not in ours, not for another year. This could be a problem, love. He is not technically allowed… Well, I was going to suggest that he buys property, in London perhaps, as valuable as possible. He could always rent it out, but then, again, I don’t think he needs the hassle of getting entangled in that kind of thing. Now, does he intend to live at Grimmauld Place permanently?” Mr. Granger asked wondering, “because if not, he could always buy a place for himself to live in. The thing is, though, he is a minor still; he is not allowed to enter into this kind of legal contract yet. Could his legal guardians do this on his behalf?”

“Dad, he is not speaking to them, but that is a long story.” 

“Umm… there has to be a way,” reflected Hermione’s father. “We could do it for him, of course, but then again, he would have to trust us, to give us the money for us to buy the property. Strictly speaking, he would lose the legal right to that money…” Will Granger said as he pondered.

“Well, could we make some kind of contract whereas the property reverts back to him upon his coming of age, in the Muggle world, I mean?” asked Hermione.

“I see no reason against it but then again, say, if I buy it and I were to die… ok, I would have to change my will to make him the beneficiary of that particular asset. I don’t see why not, though. Or, even better, you do it! You will be 18 on 19th September. Put it this way, he hardly knows me, but he probably trusts you.” Mr. Granger now felt that perhaps they were getting somewhere.

Hermione hugged her Dad in real appreciation. “Yes, of course, Harry will go for this. He’s got a heart of gold; he only mistrusts people who have treated him badly. He’ll go for this, I’m sure! Also, this would keep the place in someone else’ name. I still think your name is better. Since the Ministry hasn’t got a record of you, it will not show up, so the address can remain unknown to them. Brilliant, Dad, really brilliant!” exclaimed Hermione feeling now rather positive, throwing herself into her father’s arms.

It was now nearly midnight and it was getting chilly, so they went back indoors, into the living room.

“Phone him or whatever is that you do tomorrow, invite him over, I want to talk to him. Your boyfriend can come as well, and Harry’s girl,” said Mr. Granger again broadly smiling.

Hermione blushed strongly but didn’t elaborate. He had, for the first time made reference to the fact that it must had been obvious at the wedding that she was going out with Ron.

“I shall send them an owl,” she replied, almost speechless.

“Now, the issue with Harry,” continued Mr. Granger, “is a tough one, love, but we will try to help him. I do have lawyer friends”.

With this provisionally sorted out, father and daughter proceeded to watch a film and left it there for the night. One step at a time, Hermione thought. 

A week or so later, after she had, as promised, owled her friends regarding her father’s invitation, she could not, for her life, get Snape out of her mind, and whatever Petunia might had meant. 

She had to act, to do something, even if it was behind Harry’s back! He would never consent to her contacting his aunt, yet, Petunia knew something important; Hermione just knew this. Whilst her father was at work, she looked in her old diary for Harry’s number, the number that had caused Ron to make a fool of himself in the Dursley’s eyes, when he had shouted so loud! She smiled at the thought.

She had to admit to herself that she felt rather nervous. Despite all that had happened, Petunia had never been one for trusting anybody in the wizarding world. This was going to be tough.

Extremely uncharacteristically, especially considering this was just before midday, Hermione proceeded towards her father’s drink cabinet and took a shot of brandy. She didn’t like the taste; she just threw it down at once. Dutch courage, as they called it! Now, she had no further excuse to prolong this any longer. It was now or never!

Chapter 22: Persuasion
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Petunia was busying herself in the kitchen when she heard the phone ringing. She wiped her hands on a dry corner of a dishcloth and picked up the receiver from the tiled wall. She placed it against her shoulder and continued to dry the dishes.

"Hello, Petunia Dursley speaking," she answered, in a slightly sing-song tone.

”Mrs. Dursley? It’s Hermione Granger here. Do you remember me?” she asked timidly.

Petunia's breath caught in her throat for a moment. She had certainly not expected that! “Well, yes,” Mrs. Dursley answered looking around suspiciously, as if she was expecting someone to pop up from nowhere “How can I help you?” she added in a rather harsh and business-like manner.

“I just wanted to see how you were. I’ve been thinking about you lately… You went through such a shock!” Hermione started.

“I am perfectly alright. Now, if you don’t awfully mind, I have plenty of things to do,” Petunia said dismissively.

“Mrs. Dursley, I’m sorry to disturb you but, the thing is, I need to meet up with you,” she announced at once.

Petunia almost laughed “Meet with up me? You know very well that I want nothing to do with your kind,” she said, unable to believe the cheek of the girl.

“Mrs. Dursley, I know how you feel. I totally understand, especially after what happened to you, but please remember that my mum died trying to rescue you,” Hermione pressed cutting to the chase, realising that if that didn’t work, nothing would.

“Yes, how could I forget that day! How is your father, by the way?” replied Petunia a bit lost for words, her voice softening a little.

“He’s alright, I suppose… Look, there is something I need your help with,” she admitted trying to move the conversation forward.

She was now losing her patience. “My help? What game is this? Has Harry put you up to this?”

“No, Harry doesn’t even know I’m phoning you. I’m at my father’s at the moment, in fact. I haven’t seen Harry for days. You have my word that he doesn’t know.”

Petunia remained silent.

“I believe you promised Harry once that you would help him. Please, this is important!” exclaimed Hermione praying that she would not put the phone down.

“If Harry wants my help, he can ask for it himself. After all we have done for him, all these years, and look at how he is treating us! I thought he wanted nothing more to do with me,” Petunia protested.

“That’s because he's mistaken, Mrs. Dursley. He got a bit paranoid after…, well…” Hermione tried to justify.

“Your lot seems to think he’s some kind of hero, but I’ll tell you what, he is a complete coward and an ungrateful nephew if there ever was one,” Petunia stated dryly.

“Mrs. Dursley,” Hermione now pleaded, ignoring Harry’s aunt’s remarks, aware that arguing with her about Harry was not the best course of action. “Surely you don’t want any more people to get killed?”

“Is this a threat?” she asked in a tone of voice that sounded half-way between irate and panicky.

“Of course it's not a threat,” Hermione replied calmly. “What I actually meant is that you may be able to help preventing further casualties,” she stated trying to appeal to Mrs. Dursley’s better nature.

“And how exactly do I come into this? How can someone like me help your sort? Petunia was now getting tired of this. “If this is some excuse to collect Harry’s belongings, you can tell him from me that he can come himself, in person, and soon, or they go in the bin!” she added venting out her anger.

“As I said, Mrs. Dursley, the reason he has not contacted you is because he is making what I believe is a serious judgment error. If you help me clarify it, he’ll come round. I’m sure,” she continued, now sitting on the sofa as she realised that the persuasion process wasn’t likely to be a short one.

“Why can’t you then tell me what this is all about then?” she asked trying to test her. She had now stopped drying dishes and was leaning against the sink.

Hermione paused for a brief moment, unsure as to what the best approach would be. “It’s complicated. Well, after we rescued you, when we were at the Weasleys, you seemed adamant that Professor Snape had not intended to harm anyone,” she finally said realising that she had to come clean if she was to have a chance of gaining Mrs. Dursley’s trust..

Petunia truly did not know what to say. She had spoken too much. Had I minded my own business instead of making statements, these people wouldn’t be pestering me now, she thought.

“I don’t know why I said that! I was shocked, I suppose. I really don’t know anything!” she almost bellowed now fearing for the safety of her family. Last thing they needed, getting entangled in a wizarding conflict! especially now that they were supposed to be finally rid of any connection with her late sister’s world.

“I beg you, Mrs. Dursley,” Hermione now sounded desperate. “You said you knew Professor Snape, when you were young. It’s vital that we figure out which side he is on!”

“And, how, how do you expect me, young lady, to know the answer to that?” she replied irritated.

“I’m pretty sure that, even if you aren’t consciously aware, you can shed light on the matter,” Hermione insisted. “Look, this is not just Harry’s problem, it’s everyone’s,” she continued

“I do not really know why I have to explain myself to you, but I have done already all I promised to do, to give Harry a home until he turned 17. That’s over and done with now,” Petunia concluded.

Hermione was beginning to believe she was losing the battle and was hoping that she may react to the notion of her own family being in danger. “But Mrs. Dursley, your safety and your family’s may be at stake still, from the dark side. Harry said he would try to protect you.”

“And he managed to do that admirably by getting himself drunk!” spat out Petunia.

"But, how was he to know what would happen? It was a wedding, goodness! Harry hasn’t had a very easy life, he is entitled to have a bit of fun every so often,” replied Hermione now almost losing her temper, “and, after all,” she continued, “we all took your safety as a priority, we went to rescue you, even the bride, and look what happened to her!”

“Alright, alright,” Petunia now gave in. “If it’s just a chat you want… but you mustn’t come here. “ My God! If Vernon was to come back home for something, he’d have a fit, she realised.

Hermione now sighed with relief. “Mrs. Dursley, I don’t mind where we meet, anywhere within reason is fine by me,”

“Where about are you exactly? Petunia asked.

“I’m in Kent, near Sevenoaks, you are in Surrey, aren’t you?”

“Can you drive?” asked Mrs. Dursley not knowing what to expect from someone who attended Hogwarts.

“I have started to take lessons but haven’t got a licence yet. I’ll have to use public transport,” she replied. Hermione was not about to scare Petunia off by offering to Apparate somewhere.

Petunia Dursley thought for a moment. She didn’t particularly want to go to Hermione’s house, even if she was most intrigued as to where seemingly normal people who parented witches may live. That wasn’t her territory and it would simply not do. A public place was better, she reasoned. At least the girl wouldn’t be able to put a spell on her. But, then again, what if they were overheard?

Hermione, at that stage, came up with a suggestion. “I can take a train into London that takes about 35 minutes,” she volunteered, “however, I don’t mean to take advantage but, if you want to be back home as quickly as possible, it may be best if you drive… Umn, I’d suggest a shopping mall, there is a nice one in Tunbridge Wells,” she proposed.

“Yes, I know the one, “The Royal Victoria Place”, but what if we are overheard?” Petunia asked with concern.

“Overheard by whom? After all, you won’t even be in your county and, let’s face it, the place will be crowded. Nobody pays any attention, trust me!” Hermione reasoned now pacing up and down the living-room.

“Very well, the Royal Victoria then, It’ll take me over an hour to get there. Where exactly shall we meet?

“How about the food court?” replied Hermione. “I’ll buy you lunch!” she offered.

“Fine, but I will buy my own lunch, if you don’t mind,” snapped Petunia, feeling a bit offended, thinking that Hermione was implying she couldn’t afford to pay.

Hermione arrived first. She was relatively early, partly because she was nearer to the venue, and partly because she felt she needed to give herself time to gather her thoughts. Avoiding the possible distraction of the Muggle summer sales, she went straight to the food court and grabbed a cappuccino. She took out a notebook and began to scribble a few key words. She had finally managed to arrange to meet with Harry’s aunt. She was sure that Petunia would not be keen on staying long. She had to be succinct and to the point. What actual information did she really need?

Now, she thought, I better cast the Muffiato charm discreetly before she gets here and freaks out. The place was heaving with shoppers. Hermione had anticipated this as the kids where still on their holidays and the mothers were anxious to equip them with school garments and to get a bargain for themselves. It was relatively easy for her to perform the charm completely unnoticed. She had recently learnt to do this non-verbally, which was hardly surprising given the fact that her and her friends were forever using the said charm these days.

Mrs Dursley arrived some half an hour or so after Hermione looking pretty flustered. Hermione was sitting in the table farthest from the shop windows. Petunia recognised her at once but felt the subconscious need to scan her surroundings for anyone who may know her. She had it all mapped out, though. Hermione looked very normal in fact and, were she to bump into any acquaintance, she would just explain that the girl was the daughter of an old school friend. Having given all persons in her view furtive glances, she had no alternative but to get on with it and proceed towards her nephew’s friend’s table.

Hermione greeted her politely and smiled. Mrs. Dursley saluted her coldly and sat down forgetting even to go and buy a drink. Hermione would have happily gone to get her one but didn’t dare, given the reception that her offer to buy lunch had encountered earlier. Petunia looked extremely uncomfortable and kept playing with a bunch of keys that she still had in her hands. She didn’t make eye contact.

“Mrs. Dursley, would you like to go and get yourself a coffee?” Hermione broke the silence by suggesting.

Petunia realised that that was the expected thing to do and darted towards the counter. Hermione remained at the table but couldn’t but notice that Mrs. Dursley’s was now searching all over her handbag for her purse. Her nerves were clearly getting the better of her.

Once she was back at the table, Hermione wished she could make her feel at ease, but couldn’t work out how. “It’s good to see you are ok,” she said with a slight smile.

“Ok, enough of pleasantries, I haven’t got all day,” she whispered in a cold voice.

“By the way, I can assure you that we will not be overheard. Trust me!” Hermione notified her without wanting to go into too much detail but hoping to settle her companion a little. “Ok,” she continued, “you obviously want this conversation over as quickly as possible. Alright, I would be really grateful if you could tell me everything you know about Professor Snape, when did you meet him, how, what was he like and so forth, if you’d please.”

Mrs. Dursley sighed and then snorted. “Very well, he lived not far from us, although in a very different part of town, if you get my point. His family were odd, to say the least. Not your typical respectable family. Their house was really shabby. The parents seemed to argue incessantly and it was rumoured that his father liked the drink.”

“This was when you were children?” Hermione asked softly while distractedly drawing something with her pen in her notebook. “Do you mind me asking in which part of the country you lived?” she continued, feeling a little like a journalist.

“Alright, yes, we knew each other when we were growing up, and well, we lived in Lancashire actually, but as I said we came from a rather different neighbourhood,” she stated with a hint of embarrassment. At that point Hermione realised that there was a very slight tinge of a northern accent in Petunia’s voice. It also seemed clear that she made every effort to disguise it, probably because the southern counties were, in the main, considered more affluent.

Hermione nodded as if trying to get her to continue. There was a moment of silence, then, Mrs. Dursley carried on. “He seemed to be fond of my sister, even when we were kids. She was always the popular one,” she added with an ill concealed snarl.

“Were he and Lily good friends then? asked Hermione in a soft tone, taking a sip from her coffee.

“Well, they were as odd as one another, if I must tell the truth. Well, you probably know what I mean.” Petunia appeared unable to talk about magic openly. Hermione wasn’t going to press her anymore than it was necessary. Nonetheless, she had to keep on going. “Was he your friend as well?”

Petunia blushed involuntarily. “Not really…, well, not as such. Both of them lived in their own little world. I don’t think they have much time for ordinary people,” she replied disdainfully. “I think they actually looked down on normality. I guess they thought it was uncool, as you youngsters would say today.”

Hermione had to suppress a giggle when she heard Mrs. Dursley using the word uncool, even if she had done so in an obvious mocking tone. “Did they remain friends when they were both at Hogwarts?” Hermione continued.

“It would appear so, judging by how much they saw each other in the summer holidays,” Petunia replied sternly, having difficulty containing her resentment

“I’m sorry to have to remind you of your late sister. I understand it must be painful for you,” Hermione told her diplomatically, despite the fact that Mrs. Dursley hadn’t, so far, expressed any sadness regarding Lily’s passing.

“It all happened a long time ago, don’t worry,” was her reply to Hermione’s sympathetic comment.

“Were they still good friends when your sister married Harry’s dad? Hermione asked.

Petunia cleared her throat. This question gave Mrs. Dursley the clue that Hermione, through Harry no doubt, but God only knew how, had more information that she was letting on. Either that, or she was very good at guessing.

“Well,” she whispered as if engaging in really juicy gossip, “Something went wrong between them about two years or so before she finished school. Well, she came back for the holidays and didn’t seem to hang around with him anymore. I can’t tell you much more because my sister and I didn’t talk very much at that stage, but at around that time, she started going out, well, with Harry’s father,” Petunia paused and Hermione felt a bit sad about Mrs. Dursley’s hostile body language when she made reference to James. Why did she hate him so much? and now still though he’d been dead for years. Hermione wondered.

“Do you think these two facts were connected? I mean, your sister going out with James and…?

“Well, he certainly seemed to be acting differently, Severus I mean. He seemed to want to get closer to myself, of all people! But my true guess is that he was just trying to fish for information on my sister, so it’s possible that he had a crush on her,” she admitted. “Now, what is this to do with the matter in hand?” Petunia enquired suspiciously. “I think I’m beginning to understand now,” she gave a little malicious giggle. “It’s Harry who wants to find this out, isn’t it?”

“Umn, not really, Mrs. Dursley,” said Hermione realising that the conversation now needed to take a different direction. Yes, she admitted to herself that unwittingly she had been curious and that she understood how Harry felt about knowing so little about his parents. “Well”, she continued, “you said yourself that you went out with Professor Snape, or so I believe…” Hermione was now almost waiting for Harry’s aunt to explode and leave, but it had to be said, she thought, as this was potentially the key to at least part of the conundrum.

Petunia’s eyes now were wide open with anger and surprise. She didn’t think the girl would dare be so forward, but then again, it had been her own fault for having admitted that to Harry after she had been rescued. She could feel a rush of blood coming to her cheeks. She had no choice but to reply, or the inferences would be worse. “Well, as I said, after Lily and he appeared to have had words, his attitude seemed to change. He was polite to me, then. I guess he was beginning to grow up a bit.” Hermione frowned at this comment, as if she wasn’t following. Petunia pretended not to notice. Her utmost desire was for this topic to be out of the way as quickly as possible. “There wasn’t very much for people our age to do where we lived, so we went to the cinema a couple of times and went out for a coffee once,” she continued, again rather embarrassed.

Hermione listened attentively and then asked, “Did he tell you much about his life, about school perhaps?”

“He knew better than to talk about that school with me. We just talked about normal things,” Mrs. Dursley retorted.

“Ok, the reason for my questions, and please don’t get me wrong,” Hermione began to justify “is that Harry has got into his head that you may have still been in touch with him, before you were taken. Of course this is not my idea, hence I wanted to meet up with you,” she was quick to add, “that’s why Harry doesn’t trust you, at the moment… You see, Professor Snape murdered Professor Dumbledore, and then you sort of defended him. Professor Dumbledore was to Harry much more than just the Headmaster and he is still grieving his death. Poor Harry! He lost his parents when he was one, then his newly found godfather, and now his mentor. His views are a bit clouded, it’s hardly surprising,” Hermione realised it was now time for Petunia to take all this in and she decided, for the time being, to press no more.

Mrs. Dursley couldn’t completely understand why people pitied Harry so much, as in her own mind he had been lucky for not having had to grow up in a care home. She was outraged at the fact that he had taken to mistrust his own benefactor. Still, she reflected. She reflected upon the idea of someone she had known since childhood having committed murder. Well, it wasn’t the kind of thing that happened in Little Whinging! It was hard to know what to think. She now looked at Hermione with an enquiring gaze and said, “Yes, Harry told me as much. Hard to believe really, isn’t it? Well, how would you feel if someone you knew when you were little turned up in the news or something, having become a terrorist, for instance. I admit it is shocking,” concluded Harry’s aunt. Now, how did this come about?” She was finally letting her curiosity run free but still tried at all costs to look composed and unemotional. However, Petunia had by now long since realised that Hermione had been right, and that people were acting like if they weren’t there, thus she was talking freely.

“Well, surely Mrs.Dursley, you really don’t want to know too much about well, our world. In fact, given the state of affairs, knowledge may be dangerous…”

Petunia automatically nodded in agreement but realised that she wasn’t being true to herself. She now wanted to find out more. The feeling was similar to finally becoming hooked to a book you have heard about for ages but have always scorned as not the kind of thing you would ever wish to read.

“All I can say is that it was Professor Dumbledore’s belief that Snape got in with the wrong crowd,” Hermione started to explain.

Petunia now scoffed, although a little sadly. “What a surprise! I could see something like that coming even when we were young,” she commented.

“Well, it’s not necessarily what you may have in mind. It’s not that he befriended low-lifes as it were. On the contrary, he got it with the elite, but a rather unpleasant elite, involved with the darkness. Now, something happened after that that made Dumbledore sure that he had had a change of heart, and at that point he became a spy for our side,” Hermione’s voice remained neutral. She wanted Mrs. Dursley to come to her own conclusion. That was important.

“A spy, goodness! That seems like a grand job,” Mrs. Dursley mocked for lack of a better answer. “Still, where do I come into this? I just don’t understand!”

“Well, let’s say that I’m asking you for a character reference,” Hermione said almost laughing. “He was always hard to read. The Headmaster trusted him until the very end, but Harry witnessed what happened and it is certain that he killed him. Why, is what we don’t know. We all thought that he had managed to fool Professor Dumbledore all that time, that he was still loyal to Voldemort,” at the sound of that name, Petunia shivered. “Yet,” Hermione continued, “when we went to rescue you, I got the same impression as yourself, that he didn’t want to harm us. This has been playing in my mind a lot, because, if there was another reason why he killed the Headmaster and he is still on our side, if he gets captured, you cannot imagine the horrors that await him. I just can’t live with the thought. They would most probably get a Dementor to suck up his soul,” explained Hermione with a expression of true fear in her face.

Petunia’s eyes now resembled saucers. She was beginning to shake slightly at the thought. She would never forget her own son’s expression after the Dementors’ attack.

“Well, let me tell you, I find Harry’s suspicions atrociously shocking. How can he?” Petunia was now getting agitated. “As for Severus, well, how can you kill someone for the right reasons? I find the whole thing outlandish even if for your world.” Mrs. Dursley reasoned.

“The only thing I can think of is that he did it because the Headmaster was badly injured. We are aware that Professor Dumbledore pleaded to him, to do what, we don’t know. Perhaps he was facing a slow and painful death and he just wanted to be put out of his misery,” explained Hermione not willing to reveal the other motive she suspected, that Dumbledore had had to die to buy Harry time; that he realised Voldemort was aware that he was after Horcruxes but didn’t know Harry was too. “All I want is your opinion, really,” Hermione concluded.

Petunia looked deep in though. “Very well, all I have to go about it is that he told me not to worry when these horrid people kidnapped me, when we were alone, and that he appeared to be pretending in front of the others,” she finally confessed.

“So, we do know for a fact now! You could have started there!” almost shouted Hermione a bit angry at Mrs. Dursley’s delay in coming up with the goods. Now, please, would you be prepared to tell Harry this, to talk to him about it?,” said Hermione latching into Petunia’s blue eyes very intently with her gaze.

“Well, it is not me you have to convince, is it?” Mrs. Dursley replied disdainfully, “Harry is the one who has cut all contact, the one who is accusing me of all manner of things!” she spat out in a temper.

Hermione smiled at last. “Don’t worry, let me work on him myself and, by the way, thanks so much. This really means a lot. Now, one last thing, Mrs. Dursley, do you have any idea where he lives? Does he still own the house that was once his parents?” As she posed this question, Hermione realised that this may very well be useless, since he was now on the run and in all probability Draco Malfoy could probably prove more knowledgeable as to his whereabouts, then again, she thought, there was no harm in asking.

At that point, Petunia took Hermione’s notebook and wrote down the address of a place called Spinner’s End. As they said good-bye, Hermione with a small wink said to Mrs. Dursley “I’ll see you soon!” Petunia blinked and shook her head hoping that that wouldn’t be the case.

That evening, Hermione’s three friends were to arrive at her house, following her father’s invitation. She had been building up so much anticipation. There was so much she had to tell them, so many things she wanted to talk about. She also felt rather nervous and a little embarrassed. Her father had met Ron before, of course, but until then, she had not been aware that he knew they were going out together. She was hoping with all her might that Ron caused a good impression. Also, how would Harry react to her clandestine meeting with his aunt? Harry was known for having a bit of a temper but, surely, he would not cause a scene in somebody else’s house. She smiled at how convenient this may prove.

She had originally suggested that since none of them had yet passed their Apparition test, they come by Muggle transport. Her father and her went to collect them by car from Sevenoaks railway station. As they came into the building, Hermione saw a red-haired boy waving and grinning at her. That surely couldn’t be. Their train was not due for another fifteen minutes and it wasn’t like British transport to run ahead of schedule. But, before she had the time to think of an explanation, Harry hugged her really tightly, whilst Ron shook her father’s hand. Both boys seemed over the moon for some reason. 

As they continued with the greetings, a ticket inspector approached Ron looking ill tempered. It transpired that none of her friends had bought tickets. Surely, Harry hadn’t been that thick!  Ron argued time and again that they had all just come from outside, from the street, that they haven’t been on any train and, in all truth, no train had arrived for them to get off from. Mr. Granger frowned feeling confused and was about to offer to pay their fare until it dawned on him also that, no, they could not have come from any train. He then made a gesture for the group to follow him to the car and they all set off leaving the station staff member ranting by himself. Once in the car, Ron and Harry announced, with a great sense of elation, that they had both just passed the dreaded Apparition test, that very day. Mr. Granger decided that that was a cause for celebration and opened a bottle of champagne the Muggle way as soon as they got into the house.

They had a barbequed meal in the garden and Ron and Ginny couldn’t but think how complicated lighting a fire appeared to be for Muggles. Dinner was a quite pleasant affair. The second piece of news, Hermione heard from their friends was that Tonks and Remus were about to be married. This was quickly turning into a double celebration, to Hermione’s relief. Hopefully, Harry would be now in enough of a good mood not to bite her head off when she told him about having met with his aunt. Ron and Ginny were being really polite and her boyfriend and her father seemed to be getting on well. After dinner, Hermione left her father on his own with Harry to discuss the possibility of him buying a London flat. She summonned Ron and Ginny to the kitchen with the excuse of clearing up, knowing that they would be delighted to take a look at the various Muggle domestic appliances. After all, they were Mr. Weasley’s kids!

After a long conversation, in which Harry kept on apologising for Hermione having troubled Mr. Granger with his problems, he agreed that buying an apartment might be a solution.

When midnight came, they all went finally upstairs. Ginny was to stay with Hermione in her room and the boys in the spare bedroom. However, they all gathered together in the boys room and started exchanging news. Hermione was hardly looking forward to telling Harry about her escapade but knew that she had to do it, and better now that he was feeling relatively cheerful.

“Harry,” she started, “there is something I have to tell you, but please, promise me that you won’t be mad at me.”

They all look at her startled.

“Why would I be mad at you?” replied Harry a little worried.

“It’s just, it’s just that... I have met up with your aunt,” she confessed.

“You have done what?” Harry could feel his anger coming up but decided it was best to hear her out.

Hermione relied the conversation to him, emphasising what Snape had said to his aunt when the Death Eaters had taken her.  The nature of the relationship between Lily and Snape was something that Hermione realised was still very much subject to speculation and she didn't think it was wise to bother Harry with it that very moment. Harry, on his part, listened attentively in silence and  finally concluded that he would sleep on it.  It was a delicate matter that required a proper thought. 

But before they went to bed, they had more news to discuss, and these just weren’t too good. It transpired that Harry’s scar had been hurting again and that the vision this time concerned Voldemort’s urgency in getting his mother’s wand.

“We have to break into Gringotts, Hermione, I know how you feel about it, but we cannot waste more time. He has spies at the Ministry,” Harry explained.

“We have a plan of sorts,” volunteered Ron on a more positive note. “Charlie has replied to our owl. It seems a simple matter of distracting the dragons with something bright that moves,” he added matter-of-factly.

“Something bright that what?” shouted Hermione. “How can you say that this is a simple matter?"  Hermione exclaimed looking rather scared "Ok, we’ll talk about it tomorrow, "  she concluded not willing to worry herself anymore than it was strictly necessary.

“There is more, though,” said Ginny in a sullen tone. “Umbridge wants to round up on werewolves. She is asking for them to come forward voluntarily. Of course, Lupin is not to do this in a hurry since we do fear she hasn’t got their best interest at heart. He will have to stay at Grimmauld Place but we need to get the Wolfsbane potion for him,” she added. “He has been suffering terribly the last few full moons, now without Snape’s assistance. Tonks was telling mum about it and I overheard.” She now stared at Harry as if asking him to continue.

“I think the potions book we used last year may very well contain this. I think I overlooked it. It’s in the Room of Requirement, so somehow, we have to get into Hogwarts too. I do owe Remus that much!” he stated very determined.

They all agreed to discuss all matters further the following day and finally went to sleep.

Chapter 23: In the Moon Light's Shadow
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Ron awoke very suddenly just before dawn, unusual as this was, since he was normally a very sound sleeper. He had felt something odd, but it was a feeling that was hard to describe. When he fully opened his eyes, he realised that all was in darkness and turned on the Muggle bedside lamp. As soon as he looked around, he found Harry lying on the floor by the bed next to his. He shouted his friend’s name several times and, when he received no reply, began to panic. It dawned on him that Harry was unconscious and couldn’t but notice how scarily white he looked. For a moment, he lost track of where they were and his first thought was to go and get his mother, only to realise they were still at Hermione’s. But he had to do something. With a stroke of genius, he picked up a glass of water that was on his bedside table and splattered it all over Harry’s face.

Harry blinked a few times and shook his head forcefully, to Ron’s relief.

“Are you ok, mate? I mean, what’s happened to you?” he asked frowning with worry, thinking that it was unlikely that Harry just had rolled down from the bed onto the carpet in his sleep.

Harry took a few long minutes to answer. His forehead had stopped burning but he felt disorientated. As he started to recover and made an attempt to sit, he began to feel embarrassed. He had always had problems admitting how painful those experiences were and hated making a fuss. Finally, he replied that he was Ok, that Ron wasn’t to worry. Ron just wasn’t too sure.

“You always say that, don’t you?” stated Ron reproachfully. It was your scar again, wasn’t it?"

Harry now was sitting on the bed but he still looked spaced-out. He then noticed that Ron was standing by the door as if about to leave the room.

“I’m fine, Ron,” Harry bellowed. “Don’t bother anyone, for Merlin’s sake! Let it be. It was just a nightmare!”

“Yeah, a nightmare that made you pass out, some nightmare it must have been!” As far as Ron was aware this hadn’t happened before. Harry had felt terrible, had been physically sick even, but he had never lost consciousness. This was getting very serious. He was going to get help.

Harry had to admit that his scar had not troubled him for sometime, well not until a recent episode just before they had left Grimmauld Place. Why again, and so soon after the previous time? he wondered. Then, vague memories came flooding back, as he realised that it had been him who, willingly, had provoked his latest vision.

All he could clearly remember from the incident a few days back was how Voldemort was ordering someone to get the wand for him, his mother’s wand. That had been why he had warned his friends about how urgent retrieving it had become. He also knew somehow that Voldemort had spies at the Ministry, but who were they? He was aware that he had seen more, but hadn’t been able to properly remember afterwards. At the time, the pain had been so intense that he had had to let go. Tonight, stupid him, he had tried to venture further, to find out who the person receiving orders was. Again, he had felt as if his head was splitting, with the result this time that he had ended up fainting and now, he was too weak to try to dig from his brain what he had learnt. But he had to pick himself up, be strong. He had to force himself to retrieve the contents of the vision that had made him so ill. He closed his eyes for a second and concentrated once more. Then, he saw the scene, completely crystal clear. The Ministry delegate had been Percy!

Before he got a chance to figure out how to convey this terrible news, the bedroom door swung open and Ron, Ginny and Hermione came in.

Ginny darted towards Harry’s bed, where he was now sitting. The expression in her eyes revealed to all how worried she was.

“Harry!” she exclaimed holding him tightly.

“Don’t fret about me, please, Gin, it’s not me we need to worry about.”

His three friends looked at him and at each other rather disconcerted.

“Harry, what do you mean by that?” asked Hermione with a shudder. Immediately, however, she realised that pressing him for answers was hardly what he needed right then. “Look, I brought you a glass of milk. Drink some, it’ll do you good,” she continued almost forcing the drink onto him, noting how dreadful he really looked.

“Thanks, Hermione,” he said after taking a small sip. Colour was beginning to return to his cheeks but now, he felt oppressed with worry and apprehension to the point that he was practically shaking. He had to come clean, there was no other option and the quicker he let it out, the least chances he would be giving himself to change his mind.

“What I am going to tell you is not going to be easy,” Harry started. “It’s about the vision,” he paused “Well, what I saw the other day, as you know, was that Voldemort was ordering someone to get my mum’s wand. I knew I had seen more, I just couldn’t remember. So, I forced myself really hard to relive that experience, that’s probably why I, well... And now, I know who the person he was talking to was.” He bit his lower lip and looked at Ron and Ginny.

Hermione threw a disapproving look in his direction. Dumbledore had wanted him to close the connection and now Harry was willingly opening it up. To have a vision unwittingly was one thing but this was just like opening a can of blast-ended newts!

“Well, who was it? Ginny asked impatiently.

“Come here,” he said as he motioned her to sit by his side and gave her a cuddle. Ginny’s eyes met his. “It was Percy,” he concluded very sullenly.

Hermione blinked in shock and looked at Ron first and then at Harry with a horrified expression.

“The little shit!” shouted Ron. “I should have known he’ll do something like that! The fucking traitor!” 

“Ron, wait a minute,” Hermione interrupted. “Harry, are you sure this vision was real, that it wasn’t just a dream?” she asked trying to remain hopeful.

“Hermione, it was so real that it made me pass out, my scar hurt worse than ever, I cannot even explain…” he said resting his head in his hands.

“But, but,” she continued “what if Voldemort planted this vision on you? to divide the Weasley family, perhaps.”

“Well, there is always that possibility. It’s not like he hasn’t done it before,” Harry admitted thinking that perhaps she was right, that maybe he should have kept it quiet. After all, his jumping the gun in fifth year had cost the life of his godfather.

Ginny was now holding Harry’s hand really hard. She couldn’t speak a word just yet. That was just too painful. Her brother was a git in her eyes, but a traitor!

“I think the Order has to be told, though,” Harry went on, “of course we will have to mention too that this vision may not be true, well, I’m not suggesting that we do anything against him but, maybe your father – he said looking at Ginny and Ron – could keep an eye on him for us, I dunno.”

“Mum is going to have kittens,” Ginny said sadly, now playing with Harry’s hair, which she seemed to find comforting.

“We have to get back to Grimmauld Place,” said Harry, “I mean today, if Percy is truly a traitor and he contacts your mother,” he added glancing at Ron “you know she would be vulnerable.”

“Yeah, she would tell him anything, wouldn’t she? As long as he comes round and stops ignoring us, wonderful!” exclaimed Ron.

Ginny now spoke again looking a bit annoyed “Ron, Mum is not that stupid, she would welcome him, yes, but wouldn’t go telling him Order stuff!

“Anyway, we have to warn them, just in case what I saw was real. Of course your mum is not stupid, Gin, but I agree that the love for her children could be our downfall. She has to be made aware.” Harry concluded.

At that point, Mr Granger heard noises and wondered what could be going on so early in the morning.

“Hermione,” he called.

“Oh, gosh, Dad,” she muttered “We'll have to tell him why we’re leaving so soon.”

“I wouldn’t trouble him any more, Hermione, he has done quite enough by worrying about my problems, and anyway, I don’t see why you cannot stay with him a bit longer. It’s not as if it takes twenty people to deliver the news,” Harry said.

“Harry, you still look really ill. I think I’ll get Dad to take a look at you, he has some medical knowledge,” Hermione told him.

“Don’t even think of it. I’m perfectly alright!” he protested.

Mr Granger was now knocking on the boys’ room’s door.

“Mr. Granger?” Harry was the first to reply.

“Is everything ok?”

“Yes, thanks,” Harry answered.

“I thought I heard voices, may I come in?”

Harry didn’t like this one bit but had little choice in the matter so he replied “Of course.” 

Will Granger looked at his daughter, still in her dressing-gown, a bit perplexed and then at Harry realising that the boy really didn’t look too well.

Hermione caught her father’s gaze and was the first to speak “He is not well, Dad, although he’s trying to pretend he’s fine.”

Harry threw a really hard look at her for spilling the beans.

“You do look very pale, I must say,” stated Hermione’s father moving closer towards Harry. Ginny moved towards the bottom edge of the bed to allow Mr. Granger to sit next to him.

“He fainted earlier on,” Hermione continued.

“I, umn… it’s absolutely nothing, honestly.”

“It sounds as if you’ve had a fairly serious blood pressure drop, and yet you seemed perfectly alright yesterday. Do you suffer from low blood pressure?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Leave it Harry, let’s tell my dad the truth, you trust him, don’t you? Hermione cut in.

“Of course I trust him” replied Harry annoyed.

Hermione at that point started putting her father in the picture, explaining how Harry’s scar hurt at times but adding that this had never caused him to lose consciousness before, although she was herself doubting if this was actually the case or if Harry had just been keeping it a secret.

Mr. Granger frowned in slight frustration since, of course, he didn’t know anything about magical maladies.

“I think you ought to see a doctor, or a healer rather,” Will Granger corrected.

“Stop fussing about me, everyone, please.”

Hermione then continued by telling her dad that they would have to leave that day, that there was something important they have to tell the Order, something that Harry had seen in his vision.

Mr. Granger did not wish to pry into their business but felt really concerned. He understood that they had things to attend to and that for his daughter to keep him company was not a priority. The teenagers decided that they would leave that day for Grimmauld Place but that they would return, once matters were settled, to carry on discussing Harry buying the apartment. Mr. Granger, however, insisted on taking a reading of Harry’s blood pressure. Harry, realising there was no way out of it, allowed him to do so.

“Goodness, let’s try again. This can’t be right,” Hermione’s father said still holding the machine he had attached to Harry’s arm. “No, I’m afraid it’s correct. I think this must be the lowest reading I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed looking into his guest’s eyes very intensely, in a way that was both kind and authoritative. “Harry, I’m sorry but you’re ill. If your pressure doesn’t rise somehow, you are likely to faint again and what’s more, if it continues to drop, sufficient oxygen won’t reach your vital organs. Listen to me Harry, it could lead to permanent and irreparable organ damage.”

Hermione, Ron and Ginny glanced at one another panic-stricken.

“Mr. Granger, I don’t wish to be rude, but are we not just taking this a bit out of proportion?” argued Harry, desperate for them all to stop worrying like that.

“If your blood pressure doesn’t reach normal levels soon, I will have to seriously consider getting some drugs for you, but we’ll need a prescription; so yes, unless this situation changes pretty soon, I’ll have to call a doctor. Also, please do not attempt to stand up for a while, or the symptoms are likely to recur. I’m afraid I cannot let you go anywhere just yet.”

As far as Harry was concerned, this could just not be happening. “Oh, come on, I’ve always been in good health!”

“Precisely, Harry,” replied Hermione. “Something of a magical nature has caused this and you know it. You need St Mungos, I’m sorry.”

“Last thing we need, to inform the wizarding world at large that I’ve seen into his mind and, with Umbridge now as Minister, for Merlin’s sake, Hermione, how long do you reckon it’d take for Voldemort to find out?

Hermione remained silent, mulling this over. “Point taken, but you’ll have to stay here until you are better,” she ordered.

“But you know we need to warn…”

“Harry, I’ll go and talk to my mum, I’ll do it,” Ginny volunteered resolved.

“No, I’ll do it!” said Ron.

Mr. Granger wondered about the nature of this conversation. Did the kids really need to convey a truly urgent message or was this the result of their imaginations having run amok. His main concern was Harry’s well-being and no matter how determined the boy may be, he was certainly not fit to leave the bed. “Can we just not send Mrs.Weasley an owl?” he suggested.

“Dad, what Harry wants to tell her it’s going to hurt a lot. It’s not fair to do it other than face to face. Yet, what if the vision didn’t reflect the truth?” Hermione continued to ponder aloud.

“I wish there was a fool-proof way of finding out,” Harry conceded.

“Hang on a minute,” Ginny had just thought of something, “I’ll go back and get the deck of Tarot cards that Trelawney gave you for your birthday, and Hermione – she continued looking in her direction – you can read runes, can you not?”

“Yes, I can read runes, but as symbols, you know full well what I think of Divination and of that old fraud,” Hermione replied dismissively.

“Well, where is the harm in trying? Anyone’s got a better plan?” Ron said, supporting his sister's suggestion.

“Harry?” Hermione prompted him.

Harry shrugged and said, “It’s fine by me, I don’t see what we’ve got to lose either.”

“I can’t believe you guys, all these years making up predictions for your Divination  homework and now you are all willing to believe in it!” mocked Hermione.

“Yes, but even Dumbledore admitted that she had made two real predictions, didn’t he?” Ron reminded them.

“Ok,” Ginny decided. “If you are alright with this, Ron, I Apparate alongside with you to Grimmauld Place and bring the Tarot and the runes and get back here as quickly as we can and then, we’ll take it from there.”

“And goodness, Dad, go to work. I’ll check Harry’s blood pressure, it’s simple enough! I promise I’ll phone you and let you know how he is,” Hermione told her father.

Mr. Granger decided to trust that her daughter would do this. After all, she wasn’t the type to risk her best friend’s health, also, no doubt they needed privacy so, as brother and sister were ready to Apparate out, he drove away.

Hermione was now glad to have been left alone with Harry, at last.

“I think as my dad said, you better lay down for a while,” she advised him sitting at the edge of his bed.

Harry couldn’t be bothered to argue this time. The sooner he recovered, the sooner they could deal with everything else.

“Harry, you understand what’s happened, don’t you? Hermione asked looking really serious.

He held her gaze and said in a flat tone “Yes, I know, you’re about to tell me off for forcing the connection.”

“And you did it again after you fainted, didn’t you? I know you did because when I saw you you were worse than when Ron found you,” added Hermione now on the verge of tears. Her friend nodded very faintly. “Harry, he’s trying to kill you!” she shouted. “Can you not see that? You could have died if you’d gone further. Did you listen to my dad? Your vital organs could eventually fail. Voldemort seems to have learnt new skills these days. I don’t know the whole story but it would seem to me that he killed Narcissa Malfoy by sort of remote control.”

That last word made Harry laugh.

“Harry, this is no laughing matter. Since he has been so far unsuccessful with you with the Avada Kedavra, he’s trying to kill you in a different way. He’s trying to lure you to his thoughts and then, he is somehow controlling your vital functions. He may be just experimenting at this stage, but he is doing something. People’s blood pressure doesn’t just drop like that for no reason!” Hermione was now obviously agitated.

Harry had to admit, even if only to himself that she had a point about Narcissa. Voldemort hadn’t been at Malfoy Manor when he killed her, he did it from afar. That much was obvious from what he had seen in Draco’s thoughts.

“Hermione, I’m grateful that you care, of course I am, but you have to understand why I did it. We need to know who our enemies are and what they’re up to. Think about it, if I could do this again, I may find out what and where the rest of the Horcruxes are, maybe even how to destroy them,” he reasoned.

“And at what price, your life, Harry? We don’t even know if what you see is the truth, do we? Harry, please, promise me, swear to me that you will never, ever, try to do this again!” She locked her hazel eyes onto his bright green ones.

Harry maintained eye contact but couldn’t make the promise. He honestly believed that he could get the necessary information and find a way to protect his body from this kind of attack. What was more, perhaps that was a sacrifice he had to make in the end; to give his life in order to discover what was required for Voldemort to be defeated. Maybe he didn’t have to kill him personally, just to provide the necessary means…

Hermione spoke again “Also, if he has consciously made you ill, it’s because he knows that you got into his mind; that leaves us completely opened to him. Harry, please, please, come to your senses. I know you think this quest is worth dying for but, from where I can see it, this connection could even prove advantageous to him.”

“Ok, I promise that I will not do this again without consulting with you, Ron and Ginny first, is that enough?”

“If you solemnly promise me this, that will do for now,” she replied now holding Harry’s hand and momentarily closing her eyes, feeling a bit better as she knew Harry well enough to know that he would honour his word.

“Now,” Harry changed the subject, ”what’s your true opinion on this Percy business?”

“My opinion is that it’s probably true, awful as it sounds. Then again, he’s Umbridge right hand now, isn’t he her Personal Assistant? He’s probably just acting on Ministry’s orders. On the one hand, I don’t really see him as someone courageous enough to join the Death Eaters, especially at this stage in the war, but then again, he’s ambitious enough to do just about anything to get a promotion. I reckon Umbridge has had a hand on this but, poor Ron and Ginny and everyone, especially Mrs. Weasley! How are going to tell her? I just really don’t know.”

Harry nodded in agreement, looked terribly sad but said nothing.

As soon as Ron and Ginny apparated back to Grimmauld Place, they were greeted by their mother who was clearly in the middle of baking, since she was wearing an apron covered in flour.

“Is everything alright?” she asked giving them each a cuddle after magically clearing up the flour to avoid dirtying her children’s clothes. “I didn’t expect you for a few days yet, and Harry, where is he?”

Ginny threw her brother a look of complicity and took control. “Everything is alright, Mum. We just came to collect something,” she quickly improvised.

“To collect what?” Molly Weasley curled her mouth a little suspiciously. What were this lot up to now? 

“A pack of Tarot cards, Mum,” Ginny decided to go for a half-truth. “Muggles seem to like Tarot cards. Hermione’s father finds them very amusing, as it happens.”

“Does he indeed?” Molly still wasn’t truly convinced. Her sixth sense was telling her that something was amiss, yet she had so far no evidence to disbelieve them. “By the way, Remus and Nymphadora have just got married, I’m making a few nibbles for them for later on and baking them a cake.”

“They just got married?” I know they were about to, but thanks for the invitation, that's what I'd say to them!” shouted Ron, now having found another outlay to vent his not so easy to hide anger. 

“They had to do it in secret, Ron, it’s not what they wanted, please don’t hold this against them. You know, with the Ministry forcing werewolves to come forward and whatnot. They’ve done it the Muggle way, at the Registry Order, or whatever is called. They couldn’t have us all there, it might have attracted unwanted attention.They’re going to have to hide in here from now on, well, until this is all over. We have reason to believe the Ministry has set up concentration camps for werewolves,” she explained almost crying. “Only her parents attended.” 

“Sorry, Mum,” Ron apologised sheepishly.

“Let’s get on with it, Ron,” Ginny commanded pulling her brothers’ T-shirt sleeve.

The two younger Weasley siblings run up the stairs and in no time they found what they needed in Harry’s room, since they have detailed instructions as to where the cards and the runes were.

“We could do with something belonging to Percy,” Ginny thought aloud.

“I bet Mum has something of his in her room, hurry up Gin, before she comes looking for us.”

As soon as they reached their parents’ bedroom, Ron magically shut the door and cast the Muffliato Charm. Ginny darted straight away towards the top drawer on the bedside table on her mother’s side. “Here, look Ron, it’s a baby’s ring with the letters “P” and “W” engraved in the reverse. This must have been Percy’s from when he was a small child.

Ron pulled a face at the sight of the object. Anything connected with his now estranged brother appeared to repulse him.

“Com’on, off we go, we’ve got to get back to Harry,” Ginny said taking the lead again.

“Hey, you two,” Mrs. Weasley summoned her children. “I was going to send an owl in fact, about Remus and Tonks. You’re all expected back here tonight for a very small celebration. Mr. Granger can come as well, of course.”

“Mother, what about Malfoy?” Ron asked, frowning with suspicion. “If Remus is going to hide here, will he not go blabbing?

“I don’t reckon he’s as bad as you think, Ron. I mean, he keeps himself to himself, certainly, but he’s no trouble really. He’s a bit of a snob, I grant you, but I just have to feel a bit sorry for him. After all, the Death Eaters want him killed,” Molly defended.

“Mum, is there anyone in this world you don’t feel sorry for? I mean, just because he’s lost his mother, it doesn’t mean he’s a saint, does it?”

“Well, I just don’t think it’s in his interest to get in trouble with us and, what other option do we have, anyway? I mean, if we don’t protect him, he’ll probably die. We shall just have to hope,” their mother concluded. “And let me give you a cuddle before you go off again.”

Ginny this time was almost about to cry. Normally, she found her mother’s displays of affection a little too extreme but, this time, she really felt for her, she could feel her warmth and she was most certainly not looking forward to having to tell her what they knew they would have to. She hoped that the cards would be sufficiently clear for them to establish without doubt that the vision had been planted, that Percy had not betrayed them; yet, her intuition was telling her that that wouldn’t come to pass. She then realised that they had to drop some hint.

Molly noticed that her youngest child was becoming emotional and asked again: “Is everything ok? You look sad, Ginny. Is Harry ok?”

“Harry? Why do you ask about Harry?” enquired Ron in turn, amazed that her mother seemed to have guessed.

Ginny tried to avoid eye contact with her mother as she was aware that her own eyes were humid and replied “Harry’s scar hurt last night. He’s a bit under the weather, but he’ll be alright. He may not be able to join the party though,” she thought she better warn her.

“Explain yourself, Ginevra, how ill is he? And, and, did he have a vision, like when he saved your father’s life?”

“Umm… he thinks the Ministry is in with Voldemort,” answered Ron quickly trying not to elaborate too much. Breaking the news completely on the day of Tonks’s and Lupin’s wedding didn’t seem a very kind thing to do.

“I’ll go to see him as soon as I finish baking. Poor kid!”

“Honestly, Mum, that won’t be necessary, he’s just a little weak. He’s not in pain or anything now,” said Ginny in an attempt to dissuade her.

“Anyway, let me finish with this and I’ll get over to Hermione’s as soon as I can. I have the address and a picture of the house, so I’ll be able to Apparate. Then, hopefully, we can all get back here to celebrate,” were Molly’s final words.

The bell rang at Hermione’s house. Her and Harry had been awaiting their return for a while now. She unlocked the door with urgency and let them in. They hurried up the stairs, Ron and Ginny were anxious to see how Harry was.

He was now sitting on the bed and he had a bit more colour but still looked very weak.
“How is his blood pressure?” Ginny asked Hermione almost in a whisper.

“You can talk in front of me, Gin, you know,” he said slightly smiling.

“But you always say you’re fine, don’t you?” she smiled at him back and went over to him and softly kissed his forehead.

“He’s not doing too great still, but he’ll live anyway" she joked, "he’s a little better though,” Hermione added putting them in the picture.

“Now, how did it go?” Harry asked impatiently. “Did you tell your mum about…?”

Ron detailed what they have learned at Grimmauld Place and the fact that it had been impossible to conceal that he was ill as they were all expected there that night. Also, he told him how his mother had guessed something and had enquired as to any visions and what he had told her.

“Fantastic!” Harry said sarcastically. “Of course we can't just tell them in the middle of a wedding celebration, that would be awful! But what do I do if she does actually turn up here. Tell her that I don’t know who I saw from the Ministry? This makes matters even worse.”

“Why don’t we try and see what the cards and the runes have to say first?” Ginny suggested.

Hermione rolled her eyes sceptically.

“I have something of Percy’s by the way, Harry. It was a lucky find, in my mum’s drawer,” Ginny told him excited, passing the ring to him. I think it’s best if you shuffle Harry, since it was your vision and the cards were given to you. You have now held the ring. Now, think about the question whilst you shuffle,” she added in a soothing tone.

“Don’t make him concentrate hard again, look what happened to him earlier!” protested Hermione enraged at the irresponsibility of Ginny’s request.

“I’m not asking Harry to re-establish the connection, I’m only asking him think about the question,” she retorted frustrated.

“And what’s the actual question, by the way?” Harry asked.

“How, about, is Percy really a traitor?” said Ron automatically.

“Ok, that will do,” Ginny gave her approval. “Now, Hermione, have you got a velvet cloth anywhere?”

Hermione thought for a moment. A velvet cloth? “Just a minute, I have some velvet fabric, my mum was thinking of making some cushions at one point, yes.” 

“That will be excellent actually, and thanks Hermione, the connection with your mum is good, it will have helpful vibrations, that’s very positive.”

Harry was slightly in awe watching his girlfriend conduct herself like a High Priestess. She was the seventh daughter after all. Maybe she had many talents he had not discovered yet.

“Now, if we all place our wands on top of the cloth. It’s four of us, brilliant, we position one pointing north, one south, one east, one west,” Ginny explained. She also conjured up a blue candle, the colour blue standing for enlightenment. Hermione gave a look indicative that she remained as unconvinced as ever. Harry and Ron were minded to try anything once but it couldn’t be said they were great believers either. “Now,” Ginny added giving a signal to Ron and Hermione, “we join our hands, and Harry shuffles. We all think about the question.”

A circle of blue light surrounded them all. At Ginny’s request, Harry placed the deck in the centre of the cloth and tapped it three times with his wand to select three cards. Three cards positioned themselves facing down on the cloth. Harry, now instinctively tapped gently the first one. It revealed itself as the Ace of Swords. They all looked at if for a moment. Both the girls recognised it at once, even Hermione, despite her lack of interest. It depicted a hand emerging from the clouds holding a double-edged sword, the tip of it covered by a crown.

“The double-edged sword, indeed,” muttered Hermione admitting to herself that the card seemed very fitting.

“There is a struggle here, Harry, a struggle for glory, hence the crown, but the struggle can turn either way, could be the cause of victory or the route to destruction. It indicates danger,” started Ginny.

“I think this refers to what we talked about earlier, Harry, about opening the connection and its dangers,” interrupted Hermione surprising herself by her desire to get involved.

“This could well be, but the position it’s in represents the root of the matter we are asking about. I can see Percy’s ambition and how he would use two different sets of means to achieve his goals but if this is right, he’s playing a dangerous game. Now, Harry,” she continued, passing onto him a leather pouch, “put your hand inside and give us a rune.”

“Ice,” pronounced Hermione who was the only one who had studied runes. The stone had something written in it that ressembled a capital letter “I”. “This stands for obstacles in communication, for frostiness. I take Ginny, that this is also connected with the root of the question?” Ginny nodded in assent.

“Wait a minute,” said Harry motioning for them to stop talking for a moment to let him think. His eyes were now sparkling and he smiled. “I saw ice in the vision. Voldemort’s Headquarters are somewhere where there is ice. It’s come back to me now!”

“Harry, this is supposed to be metaphorical,” Hermione retorted.

“Does it always have to be metaphorical? I’m telling you I saw ice!” Harry insisted.

“Just let’s leave that to one side,” said Ginny not wanting this to turn into a debate. “Now Harry, please, tap the next card, the present and the core of the matter.”

“The Moon, Major Arcana and a complex one at that. Actually, since it’s this complex I think I will consult the book but it has to do with treachery, not all is what it seems,as we already knew,” said Ginny a little overwhelmed by the multitude of possible meanings that this card could have.

They all, again, observed the card's imagery. The moon on the horizon, flanked by two identical pillars. At its foot, a dog and a wolf howling, beneath that, a crab emerging from the water.

“Ok, let’s see,” Ginny this time was reading from a book: “Following the star the Fool travels through the night. The full Moon rises, illuminating for him a watery path. And he begins to feel disoriented, as if walking in his sleep.” Merlin, that was you, Harry, your vision!

“Why does it refer to him as the fool though?” asked Ron a bit flippantly.

“Don’t be silly, Ron, the fool is anyone, the questioner really, we are all described as the fool when we begin a journey, it's the first of the Major Arcana, it also represents innocence and impulsiveness, which is in fact very like Harry,” Ginny said in the sort of tone that Hermione would had used at school when an answer was patently obvious to her. She continued: “He passes under the moon, between two pillars ancient and strange. Suddenly, he looks around to find himself in another land entirely… “Now, he has at last passed behind the veil. Here are the mysteries he sought…” 

"The veil doesn't mean that you are dead, obviously, but that you went into a different reality sort of thing," Ginny also explained.

They all sighed simultaneously. Ginny spoke again. “The mysteries you sought. That can only mean to me that your vision was true,” she concluded looking at Ron almost in tears.

She finally read again: “The questioner has only two choices. He can lose himself in this desolate, primal land of madness and illusion, howl with the wolves, be hunted down, or he can get into the boat, and trust himself to the river. The moon will be in control either way, but in the boat, his surrender to the powers of the unconscious and the natural world will at least take him somewhere.” This is pretty hard to comprehend, if you ask me. Now, I think it says, Harry, that you have to act, that the future is less in your hands if you don’t.”

“You’re not trying to encourage him again to provoke more visions?” Hermione wanted to know, looking very irate.

“Again, of course not. I think what it means is that we have to tell the Order and my parents though,” Ginny answered sullenly.

“Now,” Harry spoke again, “this dog and this wolf, I wonder…”

“You mean, Sirius and Remus?I think this time this is metaphorical but we’ll bear this image in mind anyway,” Ginny stated.

The next rune turned out to be “Peorth”, the rune sacred to Frigg, the Mother. This, according to Hermione signified very much what the Moon had done. In a way, it reinforced it. “It means treachery, hidden aspects, not all is what it seems, again.”

There was silence. The theme of treachery was awfully recurrent.

The next card unveiled was the Ace of Wands. Harry nearly chocked at the sight of it. “The wand! This is getting scary. My mum’s wand!”

“I think you may be right, Harry,” contributed Ginny, I think this time your very literal interpretation may be spot on. This is the goal, the aim, this is in the future.”

“But will Percy get it or will I get it?” Harry enquired almost in a panic.

“They are your cards, Harry, so presumably, you will get it. However, the reading is about him, so he will also be in the race for it, I would have thought,” Ginny looked at Harry and smiled trying to give him hope, comfort, despite how sad she was feeling. “I think I’ve seen enough to conclude that according to this, your vision was real.”

But finally, as if for the sake of finishing the spread, Harry drew the last rune.

“The blank rune!” exclaimed Hermione a bit mesmerised: “Odin or Wyrd, the beginning and the end, fate.” She was now a bit frightened. Harry, if there is any truth in any of this, which I have always doubted, we are dealing with something huge here, something over which we have little control, which I must say I hate, something fated.”

“I think I know what that must be,” Harry told them “fate, the prophecy, what I cannot control, like having the scar. The end, the beginning, the final battle... and with the wand being there in the future, I think the wand will come into play, then, at the end.”

Chapter 24: Truth and Dare
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Molly often wished that a day had more hours. I just can’t figure out how Muggles cope, she muttered to herself whilst applying the finishing touches to the wedding cake. The buffet was already prepared and she had now covered the various snacks with a protective charm which was designed so that neither dust nor insects could get to the food. She had intended to properly lay the table before people arrived, yet, she kept thinking of Harry. Ginny had looked really sad when she told her he was ill; what was more, it was not like her daughter to admit that anything was wrong. Her children had said that he may not be able to attend the reception. It had to be something serious. Even if it meant leaving a few things unprepared, she just had to go and see how he was.

She was aware that the wedding party would arrive before she got back, as the newly-weds and Tonks’ parents were due very shortly. She must give some explanation for her absence and apologise for things not being completely ready, but she didn’t want to alarm them either; especially not on their wedding day. She picked up a piece of parchment and left a note on top of the kitchen table saying that she would be back as soon as she could but that there was nothing really to worry about.

She wasn’t used to Apparating to Muggle locations and, as all she had were the address and a picture, she was a bit unsure as to whether this would work. But she had to try. Using the Muggle transport was not a possibility. She had never been on it and it would take a long time, which she didn’t have to spare.

A loud popping noise startled a few kids who were playing outside with their bicycles in an otherwise quiet suburb. The children frowned at her suspiciously and gazed at each other not understanding what they had actually seen. She smiled at them trying to put them at ease and looked around. She recognised the house, to her relief. She knocked on the door rather forcefully as she hadn’t discovered the existence of the front door bell. That however did the trick, since her banging was loud and the four teenagers were already aware of her determination to go there to see Harry.

As Hermione was about to leave Harry’s side and walk downstairs to let the visitor in, he whispered in her ear, “Please, please Hermione, whatever you do, don’t tell Molly about the blood pressure business.” Hermione looked at him as if about to start protesting but he reasoned that Molly would have enough to deal with when they told her about Percy.

Hermione understood that he did have a point, yet, how were they going to hide his condition was another matter, for he didn't look too healthy. “Ok, I won’t if she doesn’t figure it out herself,” she conceded.

Molly looked a bit flustered as she reached the top of the stairs and, following Hermione, entered the boys’ room.

Harry tried to smile at her, trying to conceal how nervous he was about the whole thing.

“Harry!” She looked at him and hugged him in her customary fashion. He felt cold to her touch and he looked extremely pale.

“Look, I’ve made you some pumpkin soup, that should warm you up a little,” she more ordered than offered. So determined she appeared that Harry started to fear that she was just about to spoon feed him. “Now, what’s the matter with you, Harry? You can’t hide from me that you are ill.”

“I’m fine, Molly, honestly!” he said for what it seemed to him the ninetieth time that day. 

“Hermione, would you please fetch us some plates?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“Sure,” she replied and came back a few seconds after with crockery and cutlery for everyone. Harry didn’t have any appetite at all but realised that if he didn’t have some, he would either worry her or offend her.

Mrs. Weasley appeared completely focused on Harry. Ron, Ginny and Hermione all shared a concerned look when she wasn’t looking.

“How bad was it?” Molly asked him kindly.

“How bad, what?” Harry answered, for a minute a little disconcerted whilst taking a spoonful of soup.

“Well, your scar?”

“It was unpleasant,” he told her not wanting to expand too much on the episode but trying to softly introduce her to the notion that bad news might be in the offing.

“You look awful, dear. Also, you are so cold!” she said squeezing his left hand. “Was this brought about because of your scar hurting?” she enquired preoccupied looking straight into his eyes.

“I’m not sure,” Harry lied.

“Well, Harry, it’s simple; were you unwell at all before it hurt?”

He shook his head slightly but didn’t verbally reply.

“Did you have a vision?”

“Yes,” Harry replied succinctly unable to hold too much eye contact.

At that point there was silence and Harry threw a knowing glance at his friends.

“Now, did you see someone in danger?” Molly asked sounding very anxious, wondering who the person in danger could be. “Harry, we need to know. After all, you saved Arthur’s life once because of a vision, didn’t you? If it hadn’t been for you, well, I don’t even want to go there!” 

“No, not exactly,” Harry replied. This was taking forever and it wasn’t helping anyone. He started by informing her that he had seen Voldemort talking in a place seemingly made of ice with someone he had known was from the Ministry. He paused for a moment to think. He could either tell her how he had had to force the vision again and thus confessing that it was his own fault that he was ill, or tell her that she saw Percy there first time, but then, she would wonder why they hadn’t told her sooner. He had to go for the truth. What was a reprimand from her, anyhow, in the big scheme of things!

“Harry, this is important. What did you see?” she asked again with a great sense of urgency.

“I saw Voldemort telling someone from the Ministry to get my mum’s wand,” he said very sternly.

“Yes, Ron said something about the Ministry. Well, nothing would surprise me from Dolores, coming to think of it. But then again, Arthur hasn’t mentioned anything,” she reasoned.

“Mum,” Ginny interrupted. “The Ministry knows only too well what side Dad is on. I doubt that they tell him much these days. I’m even surprised that he still has a job,” she continued.

Molly looked into Harry’s eyes expecting him to carry on. Harry understood.

“I couldn’t remember exactly who the Ministry person was, but I knew I had seen this, so I forced the connection again…”

“That’s why you are so ill, isn’t it?” Mrs. Weasley said in a half angry, half caring way.

“Never mind that. Look, there is no easy way to tell you this…”

“Tell me what, Harry?” Molly was now very worried. “Did you finally see who this person was then?”

“Look, there is no easy way.” He now locked his eyes onto hers looking almost apologetic and spat out: “It was Percy.”

A terrible silence filled the room; it was so awful that it felt like a chill. Harry could see the blood draining from Mrs. Weasley’s face, which almost immediately turned red; a red that spelled out fury, a fury he knew was about to fall upon him.

“How dare you think that that can be right? How can you think that of my son!” she screamed at him as she turned round to meet her children’s gaze which, to her horror, told her that they believed it was possible.

Hermione could not stand the tension any longer and, in an attempt to cushion a bit the impact of what had been said, told her in a soothing tone, “Mrs. Weasley, Percy might just have been there on Ministry’s orders; he is now the Minister’s Personal Assistant, is he not?

Molly Weasley ignoring Hermione’s comment turned to face Harry again. “Harry, that must have been a dream, but what a wicked thing to dream about! How could you even believe it was a true vision! And it was me here thinking of you as one of my own!” she added looking extremely disappointed.

“Harry has been more of a brother to me than Percy all these years, and more of a son to you. He’s never abandoned us, has he?” Ron screamed at his mother.

Ginny now intervened. “Mum, stop tormenting Harry! It was a vision alright. His scar hurt so much that he fainted and now his blood pressure won’t go up and he could have died!” she said loudly and fast, fighting tears.

Molly was about to say something on the lines of how dare you talk to your mother like that but the words would not leave her mouth. “Is this true, Harry?” she asked instead softly, regretting having treated him so harshly.

He nodded.

“Ginny, what do you mean he could have died?”

“Mum, he’s been pretending he’s ok all along, but look at him! Mr. Granger said that if his blood pressure drops any further his vital organs could fail!”

Molly now closed her eyes trying to take this in. She went up to Harry and gave him a hug, one of her usual ones this time; thick tears were covering her face. Instants later, she was sobbing so hard that she couldn’t speak. She didn’t need to; Harry understood perfectly that she was apologising and held her very tightly to his chest.

“Do you always get this sick, when your scar…?”

“Never like this before, no, but it’s my fault anyway. I made the connection happen, the second time,” Harry explained full of guilt.

“But he has planted visions on you before hasn’t he? He’s done this to divide us, don’t you all see?” Molly protested hanging on to her hopes.

“Yes, I know he's done that before. That’s how Sirius got killed,” replied Harry very sadly.

Molly’s eyes now met Harry’s again and she really felt for the boy. “Harry,” she now told him, “You’re still one of my own. You were only the vehicle, not the cause of this wickedness. I’m sorry, what I said to you was awful! I was just...”

Harry smiled at her from his heart, letting her know that she should forget about it.

Ron pressed on by telling his mother that they have to tell the Order, just in case the vision hadn’t been planted and that she better be careful, if Percy ever contacted her, not to reveal anything. Mrs. Weasley still would not hear of this.

At that point, they heard a rattling noise downstairs, at the front door. Mr. Granger had come back early.

“Hermione!” he shouted.

“Dad, we’re upstairs with Harry.”

He looked at the watch and walked briskly up the stairs.

“Mrs. Weasley, what a lovely surprise,” he said before he had the change to notice that she had been crying. She realised she must look a sight and blew her nose trying to contain her weeping.

“I just came to see how Harry was. Lovely to see you too.”

Next, Will Granger went straight up to Harry. There was no need to ask him how he felt since he knew what the answer would be. Instead he grabbed the blood pressure monitor, which Hermione had left on the bedside table and proceeded.

“Now, not too much of an improvement, I’m afraid,” he told him as he pulled something from his brief case, which Hermione and Harry recognised at once as a syringe. Molly Weasley frowned at the peculiar object wondering what on earth it was.

“I’ve got something for you that should make you feel better,” Mr. Granger continued. Harry wasn’t as scared of Muggle medicine as the Weasleys were and offered his arm to him co-operatively. “It’s painful, I know, it may hurt for a while,” he added matter-of-factly as he noticed Harry twitch.

“Couldn’t this have waited until later? I mean, I hope you didn’t come home early from work because of me.”

“Well, of course I did,” Hermione’s father replied. “You still don’t seem to want to grasp how serious this is, Harry. If you'd had another drop and I hadn’t seen to you, it might have been too late.”

“Thanks,” was all Harry could think of saying.

Mrs. Weasley looked at Mr. Granger terrified. “Is he going to be alright?”

“Yes, I think so. This may well be a problem caused by magic, yet, he has ordinary medical symptoms which ought to react to treatment; but Harry, do please take it easy.”

“Mr. Granger, you remember Remus and Tonks, from the wedding? He taught at Hogwarts a few years back,” she reminded him.

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, they’ve just got married. We were planning a bit of a party tonight at Grimmauld Place; they've asked me to invite you. Death Eaters are unable to find this building,” Molly quickly added as she remembered what had happened last time he had been to a wizarding wedding.

“That’s ever so kind of them. Now, it will depend on how Harry is, I think. If the injection works quickly, we can all go, I suppose, but I will have to drive him there. Under no circumstances should he Apparate yet, not for what I understand is involved in Apparition.”

Harry rolled his eyes as if about to protest but thought better of it. “No, you all go even if I can’t,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair on the bride and groom.”

“With a bit of luck you’ll be fine by then,” Hermione said with a wink.

“Ok, I better be going back, to finish the preparations. They’ll be wondering where I’ve got to,” Mrs. Weasley told them as an owl was tapping on the window. “I told you,” she said trying to compose herself. “It’s from them and Arthur, they were all worried about me. I better hurry up then. Thanks so much, Mr. Granger for tending to the kid.”

“That’s the least I could do,” he replied.

“You lot better go with her,” Harry told them as he winked at Ginny. “Mr. Granger and I will be ok, won’t we?” he added looking at him.

“I think you may be right, Harry,” Ginny agreed having understood that her mother was going to need some moral support, so that she didn’t start crying in front of the newly-weds.
The three teenagers and Mrs. Weasley found the lucky couple, her parents, Moody and Draco drinking a glass of champagne in the drawing room waiting their arrival.

The first thing Molly did was to hug both bride and groom and as she did this she almost burst into tears. Tonks knew that Molly was an emotional person but she didn’t realise that she would cry at non-family members’ weddings. She shook her head unwittingly.

Tonks looked absolutely radiant, dressed in an expensive looking Muggle dress suit which matched the colour of her today's platinum blonde, slightly spiky, short hair. She must have thought that the outfit was girly enough for her without having her hair long. She was even wearing high heels and, by all accounts, very much struggling with them. Remus also, well, that was a bit of a transformation! He looked incredibly smart in a Muggle formal suit, with even a waistcoat and a silk corvette. The youngsters stared at the couple speechless.

Draco kept glancing at his champagne flute trying not to make too much eye contact. Yes, he was related to the bride and her parents had tried to help him after his mother died but still...  He couldn’t help but thinking that, if someone had told him months before that he would be partaking in the wedding celebrations of a werewolf, he could have hexed the person in question without even thinking about it.

Ron glanced towards Ginny and Malfoy in turn trying to silently convey that they shouldn’t really talk about the vision in his presence.

“Where did you go, Molly? You seem to have left in a hurry,” Arthur asked.

“Umm… to Hermione’s, actually, to help the kids with something, nothing important,” she pretended, having met Ginny’s eyes as she had glanced towards Malfoy and her.

“How very odd,” Mr. Weasley carried on not realising that his wife wasn’t able to talk freely. “In all the years I’ve been married to you I’ve never known you to leave the preparations for a party unfinished. Not that it has caused any problem; it's just that we worried, since it was so unlike you.”

Draco was now all ears.

“Also, was Harry not supposed to come with you and Mr. Granger?” Remus enquired.

“Harry has a bit of a cold,” Molly lied again. “Mr. Granger has offered to drive him here later if he gets better,” she said blushing slightly. She wasn’t a very accomplished liar.
Moody definitely thought that this was very strange and stared in Mr. Weasley’s direction. Without saying a word, he made an indication with his magical eye to make it clear to Molly that they needed to talk in private, with Arthur also. In silence, Mr. and Mrs. Weasleys followed the old Auror down the stairs.
Meanwhile, Harry had recovered quite a bit and had gone down to the living-room with Mr. Granger. Now they were both sitting on the sofa watching random TV and drinking tea. In fact, they were just killing time, waiting for the medication to take effect.

“It’s a shame about Hogwarts not reopening this term,” started Mr. Granger trying to engage Harry in something from their world.

“We are thinking of setting up a study group,” Harry told him. He didn’t know how much or how little Hermione had said to her father about their plans for the following academic year and, whilst he had to answer his comment, he didn’t want to reveal more than it was required.

“That may be a good idea,” Will Granger assented. “Where though?”

“Well, I was actually thinking that if I buy the apartment, as you suggested, this may be a good place. The problem would be getting the other students there, since people from Hogwarts live all over the country,”

“Yes, I suppose Apparating outside would attract too much attention. Mind you, they could just Apparate to various points in London and then get there on the underground,” Mr. Granger suggested.

“That’s an ingenious idea,” Harry said excitedly. “Thanks for that.”

“I just thought it’s perhaps a simple way of getting them there unnoticed. Harry, there is nothing worth watching on TV by the look of things,” Will said distractedly flicking through the channels.

A large TV screen was now showing some archaeological programme that seemed to deal with treasure. There were mountains of glittering ancient gold pieces of jewellery, vases, sparkling gems, tons of the stuff.

“Mr. Granger,” prompted Harry in a really urgent tone. “Could you possibly, please record this programme for me?”

Will Granger was extremely surprised to hear Harry’s request. He blinked. “Well, yes, I don’t see why not really. I just never knew you have such an interest in archaeology."

“Please, Mr. Granger, before this image goes!” Harry couldn’t help but pleading.

“Ok, Harry, yes, I’m onto it. Calm yourself down. What’s brought that on?” Hermione’s father was now beginning to worry that the teenager’s mind had been somehow affected.

“It’s for a friend of mine from Hogwarts, Neville,” he invented. “He loves Muggle stuff and this kind of thing. It fascinates him. I just wanted to give it to him for his birthday.”

“Has he got a player?” Mr. Granger asked with curiosity.

“His grandmother has,” Harry invented again, now grinning very widely, his cheeks turning now back to a healthy pink shade.

“Well, Harry, you certainly look better. If I’ve known this would have brought you back like this, I would have played something on this morning, goodness. I’m very, very pleased, though. Let’s see about your blood pressure again. I guess there has probably been an improvement now.”

After he took the reading he concluded to Harry’s delight that he was, after all, going to be fit to attend the party. It was a bit on the low side still but certainly out of the danger zone.

Harry sighed. Why had he not thought about this before!
Molly Weasley had no choice but to disclose the nature of what had happened to Harry and the vision he had seen. However, she insisted, in between sobs, that the memory had been planted, just as it had been before the kids broke into the Department of Mysteries. Arthur Weasley and Mad-Eye looked at each other with a very sombre expression. Alastor was bold enough to tell Mrs. Weasley in no unclear terms that, should Percy contact her, she was to inform the Order at once and, under no circumstances, reveal to him any information.

“I know this is painful for you, Molly, that you can't accept that there can be truth in it, but just in case,” he concluded.

Arthur nodded as he embraced his wife but seemed unable to speak. How could this be real!

“Molly, please, love,” he said to her softly and quietly, “let’s go back to Remus and Tonks. It’s not fair to spoil their day.”

She assented wiping off her tears and they went to join the others. Shacklebolt and the twins had by then also arrived. They would have to be told but that could be done later. In fact, a meeting was now essential.

As they joined in a toast, Harry arrived with Mr. Granger. Harry just couldn’t believe how wonderful both bride and groom looked. He smiled at Remus as he congratulated them. Remus smiled back a little sadly. Seeing Harry, all grown up now, on his wedding day, reminded him of his father. James and Sirius would have been so happy for him if they could see him now, with such a lovely bride!

“Sorry,” Harry apologised to the now Mr. and Mrs. Lupin. “It was such short notice that we haven’t managed to get you a present yet.”

They smiled at him and told him not to worry about it for a moment. Now, he thought, the best possible present would be the Wolfsbane potion. He had to get to Hogwarts to retrieve the book and, the sooner the better.

The gathering turned up well considering the given circumstances. Molly managed to avoid making a scene, although she definitely was not her usual self. The funniest anecdote of the evening happened when Malfoy helped himself to one of the samosas that Molly Weasley had made according to a recipe from the Patil sisters. He took a mouthful and his eyes and tongue bulged, as if he'd eaten fire. Fred and George's opinion was that either the boy was a wimp or that he was exaggerating. So, with a bit of bravado, they decided to try them themselves but they ended up having to cast a freezing charm on their tongues. This made everyone laugh and it was a welcome diversion from the gloominess of the day. Mrs. Weasley apologised and remarked that she must have got distracted when she tapped her wand to accio the correct amount of curry powder.

Now, whilst thinking about Malfoy, it began to dawned on Harry that Hermione had made a very good observation regarding Narcissa’s death. He wondered.

“Malfoy?” he prompted him very quietly joining him by the window. “Can I please have a private word with you?”

He didn’t sound angry but Draco had never been keen on these private words. Not being really in a position to refuse, he followed him to Harry’s room.

“I need your help, look. I know I said I wasn’t going to ask you how your mother died,” he told him almost apologetically. “The thing is, well, the thing is that I think Voldemort has tried to kill me in a similar way. If we both want to survive, we are going to have to work together,” Harry explained.

Chapter 25: Parallel Worlds
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Thanks so much to Hedgwick 1175 for the wonderful image.  The apartment block featured in this image is actually real and my inspiration for Harry's new flat.

Draco’s eyes opened up in disbelief. What was Potter on about? How could his mother’s death be connected with anything that the Dark Lord might have been trying to do to Potter?

Harry gave him a look that indicated how serious he was about the matter.

Malfoy shook his head. “Sorry, that cannot be. He can’ t have tried that with you!” he told him not wishing to elaborate.

“Why not?” Harry questioned, not understanding why his guest was so surprised and thinking that this was another ploy to get out of the situation.

“How much do you know already? I know you intruded into my thoughts, taking advantage of the fact that I was grieving. I know you did it when you came to my room that morning. I just can't believe that you could act so lowly! Also, I thought you were supposed to be rubbish at Legilimency,” Draco spat looking affronted.

“Look, I never did that on purpose. You obviously don’t know me at all, do you? I’m just not that kind of person, alright? Harry protested “Yes, I saw stuff…you already know that.”

“Well, then you will know yourself why you can’t be right” Draco retorted.

“No, I don’t. I wouldn’t be asking you now unless I really had to. I didn’t see the whole thing and I got it through your thoughts. I saw part of what you know but, of course, I didn’t see it happen.”

“So much for your Gryffindor honour!” Malfoy said snarling. “You make promises to sound like a gentleman, and then do whatever you want regardless.” Draco was now frustrated since he was well aware that Harry could force the issue by threatening him with Moody and Veritaserum once again.

“I made you a promise when I didn’t know that he could kill me that way too. Things have moved on since, I’m afraid. Also, I’m asking you on my own. I told you I’m not going to make the whole thing public knowledge.”

Malfoy glared at Harry disdainfully. “Anyhow, why should I care about what the Dark Lord does to you, give me a good reason, Potter?”

“Here we come again with the silly little game. I would have thought you should care because I’m helping you out, because I’m trying to ensure you stay alive yourself. Also, even if you are incapable of being grateful, because we’re now on the same side,” he tried to reason.

“Yes, we’re on the same side but that doesn’t mean that it has to be you the one who, well… Fame has really got to your head, hasn’t it? Do you really think that I have ever believed all that rubbish, about you being the Chosen One?” Malfoy replied in a mocking tone.

“That’s entirely up to you but, why do I get the feeling that you’re trying to show off, to be hard, like you were with Dumbledore?”

Draco now didn’t know what was best for him to do. The fact that Harry was convinced that this could happen to a male told him that he was not fully aware of the ritual, that he did not know what his mother had offered, and certainly that was something he had no desire to go into. But why was Potter so convinced that there was a similarity? He thought his best bet was to throw a question at him in turn.

“Ok, how about this: you tell me what you believe he tried to do to you, then I’ll tell you what I think.”

Harry realised that it had to concede something. “Ok, I believe your mother made a connection with Voldemort voluntarily and unilaterally. I did that too.” There was no point in keeping it a secret that his scar hurt at times and that he had visions of what Voldemort was doing, since Voldemort himself knew.

“You tried to play long distance Legilimency with the Dark Lord?” Malfoy scoffed.

“Something like that,” Harry replied maintaining his gaze.

“And what exactly did he do to you? They said you just had a cold,” Draco mocked again.

“He made me faint and then I had a very serious blood pressure drop, almost a fatal one, satisfied?” Harry hated having to admit this to Draco but had no choice if the truth was to be discovered. Then he added, “Look, I’m not interested in how she tried to give herself to him. I know why your little brain wouldn’t link it, because I’m male, yes, I cannot bear him a child; but can’t you see that this is not about the damn ritual, it’s about the connection. I believe that he has the power to control the body functions of people who try to connect with him without his consent!” Harry yelled at him almost despairing.

Draco shuddered. He went quiet. Obviously, Harry knew about the ritual. How had he managed to penetrate his mind to such levels though? although he supposed that the fact that he couldn’t get the details of how his mother had died out of his head hadn’t helped. Malfoy was now deep in thought.

“But that’s not what happened…” Draco let out, almost unwittingly.

“No, I know she bled to death, sorry to mention this,” Harry apologised in a soft tone of voice. “He tried to starve my organs of oxygen by the look of things. Maybe he goes for physical weaknesses or something, who knows! It seems to me that he’s trying something new and he’s doing pretty well. Now, all I’m asking you to confirm is whether or not your mother tried this voluntarily too, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

“Will you help me if I tell you?” asked Draco, to Harry’s astonishment.

“Help you with what?” Harry replied startled.

“Well, I think you saw that too, about my mother. I don’t think she got to the right place, if you see what I mean.”

Harry sighed and closed his eyes for a brief second. It wasn’t like Draco to admit something like this, and to him of all people. The truth was that Malfoy was now at the end of his tether. He had managed very little sleep since Narcissa passed away, for she seemed to be trying to reach out to him every night.

“Yes, I know about that,” Harry replied softly, “I’ve thought about that too, you know. I’m not this uncaring person you believe I am. It’s just that I really don’t know what can be done. Maybe the ghosts at Hogwarts can give you some indication, I don’t know what else to suggest,” stated Harry sincerely.

“I think this is different, I don’t think she is one of them,” Draco said sternly but with a tinge of haughtiness. “You’re going to laugh at me now, Potter but, I’ll tell you what; I don’t care anymore. I was just wondering whether to get in touch with the Muggle priest, maybe he knows a way.”

Harry now realised how truly desperate the other boy must be for him to admit that he was willing to trust Muggle religion, being such a proud pure-blood. Harry thought for a moment.

“But I thought she was buried the Muggle way. I imagine whoever conducted the funeral did whatever had to be done…”

“Well, whatever that was, obviously hasn’t worked very well,” Malfoy snapped.

“And what do you want my help with, I mean, how do I come into this?” Harry truly didn’t get it.

“Well, isn’t it obvious Potter? You were brought up as a Muggle and your parents are dead,” Draco told him as if talking to someone really stupid.

“Yeah, and?” Harry still could not grasp where Malfoy was heading.

“Ok, I’ll have to spell it out for you then.”

Harry couldn’t but notice that Malfoy couldn’t speak to him in a civil manner even when asking for a favour, although he did realise that the whole Narcissa business was a very sensitive subject.

“Maybe you can talk to the Muggle priest,” Draco continued, “as I told you, I did a memory charm on him and he’s convinced I’m someone else, a Muggle in fact. Maybe you could explain to him that we are wizards and that we may need his help.”

“I get it! You want me to be the one to breach the statute of secrecy, I see!” Harry retorted beginning to lose patience. “So, I knock on this priest’s door, I tell him that I’m a wizard, that you lied to him and that we have a problem with a ghost, is that right?” Harry thought he had heard it all by now.

“Well, you seem to give the right impression, don’t you?” snorted Draco. “You had everyone wrapped around your little finger at Hogwarts, people pity you because your parents died when you were a baby and, essentially, you have a talent for falling on your feet.”

“Look, Malfoy I didn’t play poster boy for the Ministry and I’ve no intention of doing that for you either. If you think the priest can help, then you will have to use your guts for once in your bloody life!” Harry shouted, enraged at Draco’s cheek.

Malfoy did not appreciate this comment and locked his ice-grey eyes onto Harry’s but Harry’s expression told him that he wouldn’t budge. He realised that he had to go about it in a different way, “Ok,” he suggested, “Maybe he can help you about your parents too. You have seen them at times, haven’t you?”

Harry now shook his head, “Look, there is nothing wrong with my parents, right? I’m pretty sure that they’re where they’re supposed to be,” he spat out annoyed, feeling slightly hurt.

“Then, why do you keep seeing them and hearing your mother screaming and all the rest?” Draco asked defiantly.

“The screaming..., ok, I’ll be open with you, I think that’s a memory, a very deeply buried memory that the Dementors seem to bring to the surface. I was there when she died, even if I was one. I saw her being murdered! It’s a very old memory, that’s what it is. It doesn’t mean that she is still around,” Harry said hoping to close the topic.
“But they’re around you, Potter, and you know it. They cannot be in the right place and be still around you!” Draco replied almost taunting him, pleased about having caught Harry on something.

“First of all, I thought this was about your mum not about my parents. Secondly, I have only seen them twice; once in a mirror that shows your wishes and once after your former master’s wand and mine connected, so would you please, in Merlin’s name, leave my parents out of this! Harry commanded.

Draco remained silent and took his gaze down. Harry now couldn’t help but thinking about his parents, about the rumours concerning his mother and Snape. Snape… Snape and his godforsaken book which he now needed back! His brain was working fast, he began to think about how Draco smuggled the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. Maybe the cabinets had been left where they were. Perhaps that was how he could get to the Room of Requirement. He smiled at the thought, and was now on a better frame of mind.

Draco made a last attempt at persuading Harry, now looking more demure, “The reason I want your help is because you must know about Muggle religion, since you were brought up with Muggles. You can tell him that you support his faith and all that, and ask him to help us.”

“Ok, I need to go to Muggle London soon anyway. You go and talk to this priest and tell him whatever the hell you wish. If he needs convincing, I can back what you’re saying, that she needs to cross over and all that, but I’m not going to be the one to breach the statute of secrecy and that’s a promise! The Ministry wants my blood enough as it is. You, however, have little to lose since you’re in so much danger anyway. That is my final offer, Malfoy, take it or leave it! Also, you still haven’t answered my question. Did your mother made a connection with Voldemort voluntarily and without his consent?”

“Yes, Potter, but you knew that already,” Draco answered curling his lip.

Arthur and Molly Weasley went to bed relatively early, leaving the rest of the inhabitants of Grimmauld Place and their guests to enjoy themselves best they could. Molly had almost become angry with Arthur for suggesting that she mustn’t reveal to anyone Remus’ whereabouts given the current political climate. She had understood perfectly well whom he had meant by that. Did he not have feelings for his own son? She had now become convinced that either the vision had been planted or that Percy was under the imperious curse. Mr. Weasley had promised her to keep his eyes opened at the Ministry and to try to figure out what the situation was, especially as to whether there was any truth in his wife’s theory regarding the curse in question. However, nothing seemed to pacify Molly. Both Mr. and Mrs. Weasley felt very drained by it all. Once inside the bed, Arthur attempted to comfort her by surrounding her with his wiry, yet relative strong arms. She welcomed this sign of affection and she let herself go. She did no longer have to pretend and cried to her heart’s content onto Arthur’s chest. They remained joined in a tender embrace until both fell asleep.

The following morning rose wet and muddy, even a bit chilly for the time of the year. It reflected well the general mood inside of Grimmauld Place, Harry thought. He was the first to get up and was surprised not to find Molly Weasley potting about in the kitchen preparing breakfast for everybody. He smiled wondering whether perhaps someone had given her a tranquilising potion. He did have a prime suspect. This was the kind of thing, he thought, Ginny would do.

He knew he had promised Mr. Granger to get back to his place to try to find a suitable property to purchase. He just had this gut feeling that they should have their own base before they ever attempted to break into Gringotts. Somehow, he sensed that they would need the new place to hide if they managed to escape. If they were followed back to their current residence, they would be giving away its location, even if their pursuers were unable to see the actual building. A large Muggle apartment block would be a much better place, too many addresses to be searched, too much confusion, besides they would not be compromising the safety of their fellow Order members. Hermione ought to go back to her father’s too. It had been most unfortunate that events had unfolded the way they’d done and that they all had had to leave so soon. Also, there was very little Hermione could do at Headquarters in any case. Ginny and Ron, however, or at least one of them, ought to stay at Grimmauld Place keeping an eye on Molly, hopefully cheering her up a bit as well.

There was also the issue of the potions book, but that now seemed easier to accomplish. Harry thought that, with all the mayhem, it was unlikely that the cabinet in the Room of Requirement had been removed. Of course, Draco had told Dumbledore, but the three of them had been alone at the top of the tower when Malfoy had confessed to this. People had concentrated on the fact that the Headmaster had died, not on the details of how that had come about. Now, the next question was whether its twin was still at Borgin & Burkes. Questioning Malfoy on the matter would be useless since he seemingly hadn’t been in contact with Death Eaters since his murder attempt and, even if he had, he doubted very much that he had been privy to anything at all. He could always go there under his invisibility cloak and find out. But, of course, yes, Malfoy could tell him where exactly in the shop the artefact in question had been in the first place. He would have to take the opportunity to ask him about this now that Draco was almost begging for his help with the priest.

Harry was miles away in pursuit of these thoughts when he heard footsteps. He was pleasantly surprised to see that it was Ginny. She sat by his side after setting the kettle to boil the Muggle way, since she wasn’t yet of age. He briefed her on his general plans but omitted to mention the business of Narcissa’s ghost in consideration for Malfoy. Ginny appeared pretty excited about the apartment idea. Harry decided to go upstairs and show her some brochures that Hermione’s father had given him to browse through. He thought about asking her to follow him to his room but then realised that there was no need to get caught there by her mother and dampen Molly’s spirits even further.

“Wait here a second,” he told her smiling, stealing a very quick kiss on his way up the stairs.

He came back with the brochures in question. Ginny was curious and was the first to take a look at them.

“Merlin’s beard, Harry!” she was now astonished at the sight of the properties. Most of them were very modern, obviously very exclusive too. “How much would that be in our money?” Ginny enquired looking at the price guide of one of the developments, realising that whatever it was exactly, it looked like an exorbitant amount.

“Ok, let me calculate it,” Harry said blushing a bit but knowing that if they were now boyfriend and girlfriend, she did have the right to know, “Ok, over two million pounds, so, five pounds to the galleon, this one is approximately 400,000 galleons then,” Harry replied timidly, pointing at a building that the leaflet claimed was the winner of an architectural award.

Her eyes opened up denoting something between surprise and terror. “Harry, have you lost your mind?”

He got held of her affectionately and sat her on his lap, hoping no-one would come just yet. “Look,” he started, “either I spent it, invest it, as Hermione would say, or Umbridge gets it all,” he looked slightly sad when he said this.

She looked into his eyes as if looking for answers. He kissed her forehead softly and said, “Look, there is enough in the pot to go about, ok? The idea is really to spend a large sum in something outside of the Ministry’s domain, that’s the whole point of it.”

She knew Harry was rich, but she was so astonished that she seemed almost frightened. “But I thought you’ve only managed to take out twenty per cent…”

“I’m using the money at Gringotts for this, you see. The goblins cannot support me openly but haven’t stopped the credit card either. I know in Umbridge’s eyes this is kind of illegal,” he went on to explain.

She now laughed out loud. “To hell with Umbridge!” she exclaimed in high spirits.

“Anyway, this doesn’t represent the whole twenty per cent,” and as he said that, he blushed again. “Gin, I'd much rather live at the Burrow any day and I’m not just saying that, it’s much more homely. This is pretty and luxurious and whatever else, but this is the Muggle world, no Quidditch pitch, just a communal gymn, you see,” and he played with her red locks as he said that, “but the Muggle world is far safer and much more anonymous. Busy business people live in this kind of place, everyone comes and goes, nobody notices. I have plans for the place, the study group, for one, also it would give us somewhere private to talk about… you know.”

“Can I come and live with you too?” she asked excitedly, as if day dreaming. “I know Ron and Hermione will!” she now protested.

He smiled. “I’d love that more than anything else at this moment in time, but Ginny, you’re sixteen still, I mean, please don’t kick me or anything, it’s not me saying that, but think of your parents,” he quickly clarified, still running his fingers through her hair.

“Why do I have to date someone a year older. Why couldn’t I stick to boys in my own year, you patronising git!”

“You will come plenty of times, the study group, remember? Your mum cannot insist we hold it at Headquarters, can you see?”

She had to accept that Harry was speaking some sort of sense but she still wasn’t happy. What was it with the younger Weasley siblings that they felt constantly left out, Harry thought.

She decided it was best if she calmed down for a minute. There was enough drama going on in that household as it happened. Besides, she usually got the last word in the end. After all, experience had told her that perseverance was a fairly strong weapon. In that vein she continued looking at the brochures.

“Harry, this building is amazing, I mean, if you are so determined to splash out like that. Incredible kitchen, awesome, most of the walls are made of glass, it'll be like living in a boat floating on the sky!” Ginny was now persuaded.

“Let me have a look,” he told her almost taking the glossy advertising feature from her.
The development in question looked in fact like a wedge, a vertically truncated pyramid. It had been built apparently four years before. It was actually the award winning one that they had read about out earlier. It went from three stories on the east flank to twenty on the north-west, with progressive ascension. It appeared to be a conglomerate of five connecting blocks joint by futuristic clear glass elevators. In fact the whole western façade was entirely glassed, maximising what were undoubtedly breath-taking views over the river Thames.

“I love it,” Harry said unable to contain himself. “I just bloody love it!” He look at the name and location of the building: “Montevetro, 100 Battersea Church Road, Battersea, London, W11 3YL” Harry sighted with excitement and lifted Ginny up in the air and swirled her around forgetting that someone else could come in. “I know your mum won’t be pleased, Gin, so it may not be this year, but I promise you, if at all I can, that, at some point, we will live there together!”

At that very moment, the couple realised that someone had just entered the room. They were Remus and Tonks holding hands, looking a bit dishevelled but clearly grinning. Remus this time, instead of telling Harry off, smiled at him. Happiness obviously had a funny effect on people.

Fred and George came to the kitchen next looking as mischievous as ever. Tonks smiled back at them. This was her way of letting them know that she had outsmarted them, that the prank they had intended by placing exploding cherubs under their bed hadn’t worked. Ginny and Harry glanced at each other with obvious complicity, even though they didn’t know for sure what the joke had been about.

In fact, almost everyone apart from Malfoy and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley followed very shortly, including Mr. Granger, who had stayed the night and looked pleased to see Harry looking his normal self. He also glanced at the brochures as he caught Ginny’s gaze and understood that Harry was now ready to put the plan into action.

Harry decided at that point that it was about time to wake Draco up. He had a priest to convince and himself, a property to buy.

Chapter 26: Nothing But the Truth
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Harry went up to the top floor and knocked on Draco’s door. “It’s me, Harry, about what we discussed.”

A fairly tired and sleepy looking Malfoy put on his silk dressing gown and let him in.

“Look, it may very well be beneath you to take up this invitation but, well, it’s not really safe for you to get out of here on your own and bump into a Death Eater or someone from the Ministry, for that matter,” Harry began to explain. “I know you want to go to Muggle London anyway. I’m getting a lift with Mr. Granger in about half an hour. If you are interested, you can come as well,” he told him, glancing towards Malfoy trying to read his response in his pale blue eyes. It was a Muggle he wanted to see, so Harry thought he may as well offer.

Draco frowned at Harry but the look on his face seemed indicative that he was mulling things over.

“So, we can go together and speak to the priest?” Draco asked, hoping for confirmation.

“Well, not really. You see, I have stuff to do and it’s probably going to take up most of the day. I can probably meet up with you later though, with both of you or on your own if you rather, if that helps,” Harry offered.

“I should have known you wouldn't keep your word!” Malfoy protested implying that Harry had made a bargain with him which he wasn’t sticking to.

“I never promised you anything, please stop putting words into my mouth,” Harry tried to remain composed whilst he said this but he was, in reality, becoming irritated. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m not lying to you, I have things to deal with and, if all works out, you’ll be rid of me soon enough, anyway,” he announced.

Draco looked at him slightly disconcerted. “What do you mean by that?”

Harry saw no point in keeping it a secret, as long as the address of the property he bought in the end wasn’t disclosed. “Ok, I’m planning to move out of this dreadful house. My taste and your ancestors’ are rather different, as you may have gathered,” he said with a tinge of pride, “But anyway, I don’t really have to explain myself to you. The thing is, it's you who is going to have to come clean on this. It wasn’t me who lied to him in the first place,” Harry stated in a non negotiable tone. "You're just going to have to sort this out yourself."

Malfoy deep down knew that he had no choice but to accept his offer. It was true, it wasn’t safe for him to employ any means of magical transportation.

Harry, suddenly felt that he had spoken too much, too soon. He had never mentioned to Malfoy directly the problems he had with the Ministry’s new regulations. He thought, however, that in all likelihood, Draco must have overheard something on the subject by now. Worryingly enough, Umbridge and Draco had been pretty much in the same league when she took over Hogwarts. Now, was this going to give Malfoy the idea of trying to get into the Ministry’s good books by betraying the fact that Harry was intending to buy a London property? He slowed down for a minute. Ok, he had just revealed that he was moving out, but not to where, neither whether he intended to rent or to buy, nor the budget he had allocated himself. So, maybe he had nothing really to worry about, well, at least not just yet. In any case, he thought he better throw a warning in for good measure.

“Malfoy, by the way, I would be very wary of the Ministry if I were you. You may choose not to believe me, but I know for sure that they are in with Voldemort,” he advised him, wearing an expression that tried to convey his sincerity.

Draco didn’t reply and his face was unreadable.

Finally, they got into the car. Harry suggested that Hermione sat at the front, and that Draco and himself share the back. It was more polite that way and also he gave him a better chance to communicate with him. He noticed how Malfoy couldn’t stop fidgeting throughout the journey. He was clearly very nervous about meeting Father McKenna again and, possibly, about travelling by car for what Harry assumed must have been the first time in his life.

“Where about would you like me to drop you?” Mr. Granger asked Draco.

Malfoy hesitated for a moment, not wishing to be too specific as to where he was going but, equally, not wanting to end up miles away from his destination.“Anywhere near Bow Road, in Tower Hamlets,” he replied.

Mr. Granger was silent for a minute, trying to work out the easiest route.“Ok, that’s not a problem. In fact, that is in the East End and we are going to Kent, so I guess it’s not too out of the way.” Mr. Granger could not quite fathom what business could bring a wizard teenager into the Muggle East End but didn’t comment on this.

Harry now, suddenly thought of something. How was he to communicate with Draco once they went in separate directions? What if he got stranded?

“Malfoy, you better take this with you," he said passing to him a silver mobile phone. He had bought it just before he'd left the Dursleys. He had figured out that it may be useful, as he imagined that we were going to have to delve into the Muggle world at some point.

Draco frowned at Harry, feeling baffled. Fair enough, he knew Father McKenna had one of those devices so that he could be contacted in an emergency. However, he had never operated one himself and he felt a bit stupid about not knowing how.

Harry sorted out this problem for him by trying to explain in simple, yet not condescending terms, the basics of the thing. Draco nodded, feeling more inadequate than he felt comfortable with.

The car was now virtually outside Bow Road tube station. Hermione noticed how the place itself was dominated by a pretty soulless brick building that looked as if it had been constructed in a hurry. There were very few business around, very little evidence of buzzing commercial activity. The flyover bridge over the river Lee had, sometime ago, curtailed this. A few warehouses and the odd pub were visible. She could not envisage a least likely place for Malfoy to wish to be dropped at.

As Draco stepped out of the vehicle, having courteously but coldly thanked Hermione’s father, Harry got out as well.

“Look, don’t feel offended. I know how wealthy you are but, well, we just cannot risk you running out of money and attempting to go to your vault in Gringotts." Malfoy looked at him suspiciously but his lips didn’t part. “Look, you’re a fugitive and, as I said, the Ministry is under Voldemort and they control the bank, I have it from a very good source. Don't be stupid,” Harry said with concern in his eyes as he discreetly handed to him £50 in Muggle notes. “Use this if you need to and give us a call later.”

Draco, once again, had no option but to accept. He nodded his head in a slightly forced way and disappeared into the dismal urban landscape.

“Dad, are we going home right away, or would it make more sense to stay here in London for Harry to look at the place he said he’d like to see, since we’re already here?” Hermione pointed out.

“Yes,” Harry interrupted, “one of the buildings has really caught my eye but, of course, whatever it’s easier with you.” 

“Harry, which particular building have you taken a fancy to? I could call the estate agents straight away and organise a viewing,” Mr. Granger offered.

Harry took a few seconds to reply. Even if he wasn’t completely aware of the fact, he felt completely drained. He knew what Malfoy had to do and he didn’t envy him. No matter how much he had fallen in love with that flat, his mind was elsewhere. However, he composed himself quickly enough and showed Mr. Granger the building he meant. Having managed to find a nearby multi-storey car park and left the vehicle, Will made an arrangement with a real state agent for them to view the apartment at midday. In the meantime, they proceeded to fetch a cup of coffee.

Harry hadn’t been wrong. Draco was really not looking forward to what he had to do. After a fair amount of deliberation, he decided that his best bet would be to carry on pretending to be Tim Adams until he had a chance to undo the memory charm he had placed on McKenna, then, he would go on to explain everything else from there.

He walked slowly, almost as his feet were trying to delay the dreaded meeting. He hadn’t ventured onto the streets an awful lot when he had lived with the priest, yet, he had done so enough to be relatively familiar with the area, enough to know his way and to realise he wasn’t far. He had to conquer his cowardice somehow. He knew he would feel a lot better for it later and, above all, he owed at least that much to his late mother.

On that note, he realised he didn’t know whether his former benefactor would be at the church or still in his flat. He decided to use Harry’s Muggle telephone to find out. As he picked up an address book from his jacket pocket and dialled the number, he thought about the last time they had communicated. It had been after he’d discovered that his mother had died. He had used the phone at the Tonks’ cottage to let him know that his mother had passed away and that he had business to attend to. Sean McKenna had offered him his condolences and had even had arranged for some flowers to be delivered to the address he had provided. At least, that bit of the story had been true, albeit him not having gone into the ins and outs. As he thought of this, he heard the priest’s voice again and his heart begun to pump.

“Hello, Father McKenna speaking,”

“Good morning, Father, it’s me, Tim. I’m in London, I thought I may pay you a visit,” he replied speaking very fast as if trying to get this over and done with as quickly as possible, “Are you at the flat?”

“Tim, goodness, I’ve been thinking about you! Are you ok? Yes, yes, I’m at the flat, it will be great to see you,” Father Sean said excitedly.

“I’m very close by. I’ll see you in about five minutes.” .

True enough, it didn’t take him long to arrive at the place. He rung the door bell and waited feeling extremely nervous.

The priest opened the door and saluted him cordially, “I was really sorry to hear about your mother, Tim, how are you?”

“Well, it’s been hard, “Draco said sullenly, “thanks for the flowers by the way,” he added politely.

“Please, come in. I’ve just made some coffee, would you like a cup?” 

“Yes, thanks, that would be great,” Malfoy replied, trying to work out very quickly how to go on from there.

As the sat at the humble but familiar table, Draco gathered his courage and started, “Father, I have a confession to make, well, a second confession, in essence,” Sean McKenna’s eyes opened up with a mixture of concern and curiosity. “I made you believe something that wasn’t true when we first met,” he continued. Do you remember that night?”

Father McKenna frowned at him. Yes, he had a niggling feeling that there had been something funny about how they’d met. But, surely, he had been sent to him by his colleague in Kent, they hadn’t met at night, he had arrived one Tuesday morning. What was that all about? He didn’t suspect anything too dreadful anyway, and disregarding the young chap’s comment about their first meeting, he reasoned that perhaps he had a crush on some girl.

“Father, you said that God forgives if one is to repent,” Draco started, attempting to gain the priest’s absolution even prior to telling him his story.

Now, the priest was convinced that his suspicions were correct, that he must have met with an old flame back home and probably committed a carnal sin. He was bound to have felt lonely after what had happened. “Ok, do you just want to talk to me, or would you like a proper confession?” he offered.

Draco now had to think on his feet. If he chose the actual sacrament, this would make the priest trust his repentance more; yet again, this was likely to take place at the church and he wanted to undo the spell and was aware that magic didn’t work very well in such buildings; so it was better that they talked where they were.

“Ok, thanks, Father,” Malfoy replied politely, “I think I rather talk to you informally first and then, yes it would be really good if I could confess properly. Please, believe that I don’t feel good about this.”

“Ok, let’s hear you out, then. I’m sure that, as long as you truly repent of whatever your sin, forgiveness is at hand,” McKenna told him encouragingly.

Draco, almost automatically reached out for his wand, withdrew his gaze for a brief second and then pointed at Father McKenna’s forehead with as much concentration and conviction as he could muster.

“Finite Memoriam Mutatam!” 

The priest glared at him almost with terror in his normally affable blue eyes. Slowly, the events of the night they had met started to emerge; how Draco had extinguished the fire using a wooden stick, what they have talked about, what he had told him about the wizarding world. Sean McKenna looked at the youngster with an expression that reflected a mixture of anger, disappointment and disbelief.

“I need your help, Father. I know I did wrong by letting you believe I was someone else. I did tell you the truth at first, though, but then, I panicked,” he explained ashamed. “You were good to me and I sort of betrayed you but you see, exposing my world is strictly forbidden and I’m coming clean with you now. I just need you to forgive me. I need your help, sir!” Draco pleaded.

McKenna still found it hard to trust his newly restored memories. Malfoy himself recalled how, on the night of their first meeting, he had told him all about his mission to kill Dumbledore, about the Dark Lord’s regime. He had not, however, explained about the different beings which inhabited the Earth unknown to the priest, about the magical powers vested upon his kind. He was trying to tell him all these things now but it was very hard to know where to begin.

Father Sean could not believe his ears, however, his curiosity, once again, permitted him to allow the youngster to continue. The world the teenager talked about was something very much like folklore, like a macabre fairy-tale, with sorcerers and dragons but no happy endings, a world torn apart by civil war but, did that reality truly exist or was the kid just merely a bit unstable? Too many fantasy books, films and computer games! McKenna couldn’t help but lay the blame on such things.

On the other hand, the Bible strictly forbid any form of sorcery, he reminded himself; “Do not let your people practice fortune-telling or sorcery, or allow them to interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is an object of horror and disgust to the Lord." He remembered the passage by heart: Deuteronomy 18:10-12.” It was entirely possible, he thought, that the boy had been initiated into some heretic doctrine. If that was the case, it was his duty to help him find the way out.

Meanwhile, Will Granger had suggested to Harry that, in order to avoid suspicion on the part of the estate agents and to justify the fact that he, Harry, a minor unrelated to him, was the ultimate decision maker, pretended to be engaged to Hermione and that the apartment was to be her father’s wedding gift. Both Harry and Hermione blushed and giggled but had to agree that the plan wasn’t bad.

The apartment featured on the brochure, the one in the glass, wedge-shaped building, was the one they were about to view. They were shown into the property by a very smart looking woman in her mid-thirties. She pointed out to them, time and time again the many advantages of living in an area situated between Chelsea, Kensington and Fulham with all its amenities, in the very bank of the Thames. She continued with an extensive account of the property’s facilities, the gardens, the leisure centre, the tennis courts, the 24 hour security, the secured car parking and so on and so forth.

Harry, rolled his eyes hoping that the woman would stop advertising the place. He needed little persuasion. The views of the apartment did really live up to his expectations. Still, the real estate lady carried on emphasised how rare it was for one of the largest apartments in the building, especially for one located in the prestigious E block, to become available. The flat was certainly a large one, at almost 200 square metres. The reception area was indeed very spacious. Harry could see this being really useful for the intended DA meetings. The kitchen, as Ginny had commented, was also really impressive, large, airy and very modern, the three bedrooms were equally roomy and all of them had bathrooms en-suite. Harry knew there and then that he’d made up his mind. When they had all left the building, he instructed Hermione’s father to phone the agents and place an offer. He couldn’t wait to move in!

Draco at this time was still wrestling with Father McKenna’s reluctance to believe his world existed. Harry, on his part, was anxiously awaiting the vendor’s answer in response to his offer. The call finally arrived and, as Will had expected, they had been able to round the monetary consideration at two million pounds. The apartment was now his, once a few formalities were completed at the solicitor’s office.

Harry was now in an excellent mood, he was almost euphoric. For the first time in his life, he was going to live in a place he could really call his own. Fair enough, he owned Grimmauld Place, but he hated the house nearly as much as his godfather had done. This was different!

They decided that that was cause for a small celebration and they proceeded to have lunch at a traditional public house.

Harry was dying to convey the news to Ron and Ginny, especially Ginny, but then again, he realised what would follow. She was intent on moving in with them and she was by no means a quitter. Mr. Granger had instructed his Assistant to take his patients for the day and was ready to go back home. However, he asked if Harry had any other business in London. He replied that he ought to call Malfoy to see how he was getting on. Hermione knew that he had lived with a Muggle priest for a while and suspected this had something to do with the matter in hand. Harry didn’t expand a lot but said that he had promised Malfoy to help him if necessary.

Draco Malfoy was still looking very subdued in front of the priest, trying to gain his confidence, when the mobile phone rung.

“It’s me, Harry,” he started “Look, I think I’m done with the stuff I had to sort out. I can meet up with you, if it helps.”

Draco, although unwilling to admit it to himself, sighed with relief. It certainly wouldn’t harm his cause to get support from someone from his world, someone he somehow knew would make a good impression. “How are you getting here?” Malfoy enquired unsure as to whether wizards in Muggle London Apparated at all.

Harry was a bit unsure himself, “I can use the London tube,” he suggested.

Hermione’s father, fearing that the youngster might in the end decide to Apparate and being still a bit worried about him, intervened, “Harry, I can give you a lift back to where we left your friend, if you wish me too.”

Harry hesitated for a moment and made a sign for Mr. Granger to bear with him.

Draco was beginning to become uncomfortable with the silence at the other end of the Muggle artefact. “Harry?”

Harry noticed that he was calling him by his first name, which was something he had never done before. He just couldn’t contain a knowing grin; he was undoubtedly going to tell the priest that they were best of mates.

Hermione threw a curious look at him. Harry continued to smile and simply replied to the receiver “I’ll meet you at Bow Road underground station in about half an hour.”

Hermione and her father dropped Harry back at Bow Road and told him which train to catch later in the evening. He needed to go back to their place so that they could get the conveyancing ball rolling the next morning. He said that there was a small chance that he may be meeting with Bill and Ginny later but told them he’d be in touch in any event, thanked them for all they had done and stepped out of the car.

Draco had informed Father McKenna that he was meeting with a friend of his whom he might find interesting. The priest was at an absolute loss as to what to think or do.

“I think you’ll like Harry,” he broke the ice. “Most grown-ups like Harry, for some reason…” he muttered to himself. “You see, he’s an orphan, his parents were killed when he was one by the same guy who ordered me to murder the Headmaster,” Draco commented hoping to appeal to the priest’s sense of compassion. “He goes to my school. I’d very much like you to meet him, though. He was brought up in what you would call the normal way,” Malfoy added, “so probably you won’t find him all that strange.”

“But he’s like you claim to be, ain’t he?” enquired Sean McKenna almost alarmed at the prospect of having to deal with more either delusional, or far worse, heretic people.

“It won’t hurt for you two to meet, you know,” Draco tried, “He’s also extremely wealthy and I believe he’s always had faith in God, " Malfoy quickly invented, since he had never discussed religion with Potter at all, "so you never know," he continued, "he may be able to help you restore the old chapel,” he said retorting to the only strategy his father had ever taught him, the colour of money.

Father McKenna, contrary to his expectations, showed real anger for the first time since Draco had known him. “Look, son, donations are very welcome but I will not be bribed in such a way!” he exclaimed feeling insulted.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Draco apologised alarmed, realising he had put his foot on his mouth well and truly. “I know he’s kind, you see, and he’s looking for answers as much as I am,” he ventured.

The phone rang again. Harry again, of course. “Look, Father, I’m going to meet with him. I’d be honoured if you join us,” Draco stated changing tactics.

Father McKenna reasoned that, even if these people were supposed to be able to cast evil spells, this other chap was also only a boy and he, surely, wouldn’t do a thing like that in a public place, beside he was extremely intrigued so, in the end, he agreed.

Harry arrived at the station first. It was a small one, and once a few people had gone through the barrier, a fairly desolated one.

Father McKenna spotted a young man from a distance and, given that he was on his own, about Draco’s age, and looked as if he was waiting for someone, he concluded he must be the person they’d come to meet. Father Sean’s first impression was that Harry looked rather normal and pretty well presented. Harry was rich now and there was no way he was going to continue wearing the cast-outs, many sizes too big, that Aunt Petunia had forced on him for most of his life. To Father McKenna, he looked neat, too much so, perhaps. He had never been particularly keen on people who appeared too well-off. He was wearing jeans that pretended to be worn but weren’t really; his polo shirt was an expensive one, by a leading brand, also he went to that posh and strange school… Yet, the priest willed these thoughts out of his mind. It wasn’t right to judge, even if sometimes he found this hard to achieve.

Harry stepped forward and shook his hand. He did so fairly firmly but not in an overpowering way. “I’m Harry, Harry Potter,” he introduced himself. “Very glad to meet you,” Harry said politely not quite knowing what to expect from that point on.

Malfoy looked at him with complicity. Harry smiled back.

Father McKenna glanced for split second at his new acquaintance’s eyes; they were alert and warm. Nothing about them was disturbing, but yet again, there was something unnatural in their colour; they were brighter than any green irises he’d ever seen before. In fact, he wondered if Harry wasn’t actually wearing glasses to make this very uncommon shade less noticeable. The priest’s instincts were telling him, however, that there was no real malice in the youngster and decided to give him a chance. He invited them both back to his place.

They walked in almost absolute silence. Harry wasn’t exactly sure as to what role Malfoy expected him to play. The sole reason for him being there, in his opinion, was to try to get help regarding Narcissa’s ghost. Of course, he was completely unaware as to what Draco had told him already and what he had omitted.

Malfoy broke the silence by telling Harry that he, himself had already breached the Statute of Secrecy, that he needn’t worry.

Harry was glad to hear that but still feel extremely awkward.

Once in the flat, Father McKenna went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. He had been right, Draco was addressing him still by his first name. He also noticed how the priest continued to call Draco, Tim, despite the fact that it had been clarified that he had now been made aware of his true identity. He supposed that it must be hard to, suddenly, have to call someone by a name other than the one you've always known them by.

“Have you told him about the problem with your mum?” Harry enquired in a whisper now that they were alone.

“Well, not quite yet,” Malfoy replied also in a very low voice, “I will though but, please, do help me.”

As Harry whispered back, “How?”, Father Sean entered the room holding a tray in his hands, offered the boys a drink and sat down at the small table.

“I believe you two go to the same school,” the priest said attempting to start up the conversation on a semi-normal note.

“Yes, we’ve known each other for six years now,” Harry answered in a neutral tone of voice.

“You went to your local state school before that, didn’t you?” Draco asked Harry trying to make McKenna feel more comfortable by showing that his companion hadn’t always been raised as a wizard.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Your friend tells me here,” the Father said softly, “that your parents died when you were a baby. I’m really sorry about that,” he added, genuinely sympathising.

Harry wasn’t entirely sure why the conversation now was centred upon him and his life story, however he remained polite, if not overly talkative.

“I don’t wish to intrude at all. I just think it’s sad,” the priest added apologetically.

“It’s alright, don’t worry,” Harry smiled trying to put him at ease.

“You went to live with your aunt and uncle in Surrey, didn’t you?” Malfoy prompted again. It was clear that it was Draco who wanted to steer the conversation in that particular direction.

Harry nodded not really wanting to have to explain too much about how he felt his relatives had treated him.

“As a matter of curiosity, Harry, were you raised in any particular faith? Not that I’m to judge you in any way, son,” the priest reassured him, realising that he was being rude by practically interrogating his guest.

In reality, he had been merely looking for a sign to the effect that some of his former pupil's friends may have some Christian connections.

“Yes, in the Anglican Church, Father. You’re a Catholic, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right. Well, you’re still within the Christian faith, though. Did you go to church much?”

Harry had never until then talked really about religion. It wasn’t a topic he was at home with. “My aunt and uncle used to take my cousin and me to mass on Sundays, well, to begin with,” he corrected realising that as he had grown a bit older and they had feared he may do magic, they had made all sorts of excuses for him not to be able to attend, by such deeds as inventing that the kid suffered from one nervous disease or another.

Father McKenna noticed the sad expression in Harry’s features and realised that there was more to the story. He looked at the boy as if asking him to continue, to let whatever it was off his chest. Harry recounted how, as soon as it had become apparent that he could do magic, he had been prevented from attending the church.

Now the priest really felt outraged, denying a young child a religious education, how terrible indeed!

“Harry, I think this is truly terrible, to be kept from the scriptures on purpose. I just don’t know what to say. Now, this magic?” Father Sean found it hard to put the question properly together.

“Well, Father. I know you probably find this very scary, since of course, you must have had no idea… Now, my view is that God must have given us this gift, if you wish. We are free to use it to do good or to do evil. We’re not all systematically bad, though. We can choose how we use our abilities but we cannot choose having them!” Harry now felt very passionate about the subject and Father McKenna listened really attentively. “When I was young, sometimes I’d be upset and strange things would happen, like a glass may break or something. I didn’t know what it was, no-one ever told me, not until I was eleven. Magic is more dangerous if not properly channelled and controlled, that’s why we have a school to learn how to do this. You mustn’t fear us, although I have to say, there are some pretty unsavoury people in our world, just as there are also nasty individuals in yours.”

Father Sean frowned and crossed his arms thinking again about the reference to magic in that passage from Deuteronomy.

“Harry’s right,” Draco agreed trying to fight his own corner a bit further. “As I said, some maniac ordered me to kill someone or else, he’d kill my whole family, and yet, I chose not to do that,”

Harry, without anyone noticing, rolled his eyes almost involuntarily. In his opinion the main reasons why he hadn’t become a murderer were lack of nerve and Dumbledore’s efforts to prevent him from doing so, but this wasn’t the time or the place to make such observations; also Draco may very well be speaking the truth, that he had made a choice.

“In fact, that’s why my mother is dead, Father, because the guy in charge took revenge on me through her!” Draco was now becoming fairly emotional.

Father McKenna stared at his former protégée completely flabbergasted. He had been absolutely convinced that the boy’s mother had died of natural causes. All the knowledge he had about him had been turned completely outside down. “I can listen to you, of course, but you must understand, all this that you’re telling me about it’s just too mind blowing, ain’t it? And as I said, apart from giving you some moral support I don’t know what I can do,” he concluded frustrated.

Harry glared at Malfoy really intensely, commanding him without speaking to come clean, to explain about his mother not having passed away properly. Draco realised that, unless he mentioned his more pressing problem, Harry would.

“Father,” Malfoy started, trying to hide the fact that was nearly shaking. “Do you believe in ghosts?”

McKenna didn’t like where this conversation seemed to be heading. “Well, that’s a bit of a question, ain’t it, son? I mean, of course there is the Holy Ghost but I take you’re talking about spirits, as it were.”

Malfoy nodded and looked down hoping that there was something, anything at all, that the priest could actually do in that regard.

“Well,” Father Sean replied after reflecting for a few moments, “what we believe is that after death we can be either condemned to Hell or ascend to Heaven but it’s not always that simple. Some people are absolved but need to redeem their sins and they go to Purgatory. In such cases, the best thing we can do is pray for their souls… I don’t know if this answers your question,” he added looking worried.

“How about unfinished business?” Harry butted in.

“Ah,” McKenna now smiled. “I think you two had seen more television that is actually good for you,”

This was in many ways ironic, since the first time Malfoy had in fact had come across a TV set had been at the priest’s place. Harry decided to take a more direct approach.

“Well, I think it’s really for my friend here to explain in more detail. All I can say is that he’s been staying at my place and that I have sensed myself that his mother is not actually resting in peace as she should…”

Draco assented, to the priest astonishment. He must admit, he hadn’t had anyone coming to him for help with what people called “ghosts” for a very long period. The only thing he could think of is that, for some reason, she was paying a penance for something she must have done. In fact, he could recall studying that sometimes God would allow certain people to have sightings of such souls. How to explain his suspicions to the kid, though? “I think it will do no harm to pray for your mother’s soul, though, he conceded, in case she’s actually in Purgatory. I’m afraid this is the best that, to my knowledge, can be done. We can all pray together, in fact,” he concluded sullenly.

“How about exorcism, Father? I read something about that in some of your books when I was staying here,” Draco pressed on not really feeling terribly confident about how effective a few prayers could be.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! This is hardly something in practice today. In fact, we are not even allowed to attempt this without express consent from the Bishop. Besides, that’s supposed to be used in cases of demonic possession. Clearly, your mother has passed away, she’s not possessed!” McKenna now held his forehead with his hands and shook his head.

“No, sir, she hasn’t passed away, that is the whole problem!” Draco now exploded.

“Ok, ok, calm down,” the priest tried to soothe him patting him in the back “I promise we will pray. I’m sure things will be alright.”

The priest now proceeded to ask about what Draco thought he had sensed or seen. Malfoy had explained how things had got worse after he found out the details of her death, that maybe she was attached to the house he was now living in, which incidentally had belonged to a cousin of hers, who had turned out to be Harry’s godfather. More for the purpose of comforting Draco than out of a real belief that she was in fact haunting the place, Father McKenna offered to take a look at the property, place a cross and purify the house with holy water.

Harry, as the owner of the house, gave his permission but was concerned about what the likes of Alastor Moody may make of this. He then suggested to Father McKenna that it might be a good idea for him to visit their London so that, hopefully, when he got to meet the Order it would less of a shock.

“I’ll take you there. I was heading for Diagon Alley, anyway,” Harry said and then added looking at Draco, “You best use my Invisibility Cloak though. I have this with me. You know there are people out there after you,” he reasoned.

The priest was going from shock to shock. An invisibility cloak indeed! Dangerous and frightening as their world may seem, it was also incredibly intriguing. Maybe it was God’s wish that he should help these people. With these thoughts in mind, he agreed.

Chapter 27: Diagon Alley
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Author's Note: It is not at all my intention to offend anyone by the reference Harry makes to Jesus. He is a young man who has received a very incomplete religious instruction and he is trying to understand things in his own mind, he is not voicing my own opinions here. However, if any of you readers feel strong about this comment, please feel free to pm me. 

Both Harry and Draco felt quite pleased with the outcome of their meeting with Father McKenna and, if he were to help, they thought it would be useful to introduce him to their world. Harry, however, realised that they couldn’t just simply stroll down Diagon Alley without taking some preliminary precautions. To begin with, Draco was very much in danger from Voldemort and his Death Eaters, although it was true that the Invisibility Cloak would prevent him from being spotted. He was also well aware of how recognisable he, himself, was and the idea of using Polyjuice crossed his mind. Despite the fact that he had been in danger practically since birth, and that he wasn’t expecting an attack at that particular moment, he thought it was unnecessary to attract unwanted attention; also he didn’t consider it wise for the priest to show up in his Muggle religious clothing.

“Father,” Harry started, trying to be as diplomatic as he possibly could. “I do not wish to offend you by what I’m going to suggest but, if you are coming with us, I think it would be best if you dressed in a more inconspicuous way. Our folk often wear robes but I don’t think that’s really necessary. Plain, ordinary clothes should be fine. I seldom wear robes myself out of school anyway,” he explained.

Sean McKenna looked at the teenager slightly startled. “Robes? Is that what your people normally wear?”

“Well, the older generation in the main, and not always. I understand that you must be very proud of your profession and won’t wish to deny who you are but, trust me, I think it would generate a lot of curiosity, which we could all do without.” Harry paused for a moment trying to ascertain what reception his suggestion had had.

The priest, for what Harry could tell, didn’t appear offended and went on to explain that, after the II Vatican Council, it had been allowed for clergymen to wear plain clothes when not officiating in a religious capacity, and that that should not be a problem.

Harry felt relieved but continued to try to justify the need to keep their identity concealed. He added, “I, also, am too well known in my world and that’s also a real hassle.”

Father McKenna, at that point, frowned looking disconcerted. Of course, no-one had got round to explaining to him why Harry, at his age, was already a celebrity.

Draco expected Harry to start boasting about his history. When he did not, he begun to explain, “ok, sir, it has something to do with how his parents were killed and the fact that he sort of miraculously survived.” He omitted to say that a Killing Curse had been involved for fear of frightening him.

Harry bit his lower lip and took his gaze down.

Father Sean’s facial expression was one of active interest; however, he did not want to bring up, yet again, a subject that Harry was bound to be sensitive about.

If the priest was going to delve into their world, Harry thought, he was going to find out sooner or later. He may as well hear it from the horse’s mouth. “The thing is, umm… ok, as I said before, there are wizards whose only interest is power, world domination by whatever means. To tell the truth, I’m a bit worried about scaring you by telling you this, but I can assure you, most of us are decent people…”

Father McKenna remained silent but looked at Harry in what he read as a benign way.

Harry continued, “Well, ok, I’ll tell you what happened. In fact, you may find this interesting in a way because, as in the Bible, the power of love, of sacrifice ... seemed to have been involved.” He paused and then, taking a deep breath, he continued, “my parents were fighting against one of these guys’ regime, probably the worse one in history; they opposed his tyranny and his cruelty. He went after them, they went into hiding but they were betrayed. He turned up at their cottage one night, when I was a baby; he killed my dad, then my mum and he came after me.”

Father Sean now looked positively horrified, “He wanted to kill an innocent baby!”

“Yeah, I know. Terrible isn’t it?” Harry agreed.

Draco now withdrew his gaze. Harry had an incline that Malfoy was now beginning to feel ashamed of having once joined forces with someone capable of such deeds.

“Then something, well, uncommon happened,” Harry went on, twitching a little. “He also tried to fire the Killing Curse at me but this rebound somehow. People say that this was because my mother loved me so much and sacrificed herself. He hit me with the curse too, but I didn’t die; instead, he lost his powers. I was left unscathed, save for the scar.”

McKenna hadn’t actually noticed Harry’s scar prior to that point. Harry tossed his hair to let him see it. For some reason, he didn’t feel how he usually did when people stared at it. He realised that he wasn’t going to treat him like some circus attraction.

Once again, the priest could not believe his eyes or ears. For one thing, that scar had the oddest of shapes and, if this was true, it had been caused by a power that people would call supernatural. He didn’t completely grasp it. In fact, he didn’t quite understand the mechanism of any of it at all. Killing curses indeed! So, it was possible then to cast evil spells? And they worked? He asked, “So it is true then, black magic is for real?”

“Magic is for real, yes,” answered Harry, “but as I said, magic can be used for many other purposes, to heal, to save people’s lives, to make life easier even, just like you have dishwashers, for instance.”

Father McKenna was lost in thought for a few minutes. It was true that the incidents the boy had described drew certain parallels with the story of Christ; love, sacrifice… Further, he realised that this idea of love, of harming no other, was not exclusive to Christianity. Despite his strong dislike for what he thought were false deities and creeds, he conceded in his own mind that Wiccans, for instance, appeared to profess a belief in something not dissimilar to what Harry talked about. He had read somewhere, he recalled, that in this cult, it was accepted that an evil curse could come back tenfold if the victim threw positive energy at the caster. But perhaps it wasn’t that, perhaps it would work just as well if the victim’s feelings of love overwhelmed him or her. Yes, maybe it had been God’s wish, after all, that he met these two boys, that he looked further into these similarities.

Draco and Harry kept quiet, allowing their host to gather his thoughts, to take this in, but Harry was impatient and was seeking a response, some sort of reaction. Father McKenna seemed relatively calm and he dared venture a bit further. He looked into the older man’s eyes as if asking for permission and then said, “In my humble opinion, we are fighting the same corner. Dark forces are taking over our world and we need to defeat them but, as the headmaster of our school said to me, evil shall not prevail forever. I truly believe that, but maybe, for this to happen, we need to join forces, to share our knowledge, since we seem to share the common goal of eradicating evil. I don’t know, it’s just, umm ... it’s almost a gut feeling.”

It made sense in a way, Father Sean thought. That kid seemed pretty mature for his age, also extremely determined but, he supposed, he had been through a lot in his short life. Suddenly, without knowing exactly what had prompted him, but suspecting it was a mixture of respect and pity, he surrounded Harry with his arms, and then Draco, and said to them: “Alright, I’ll see what I can do,” and after a few minutes, he told them that he needed to go the church briefly but that he would be back soon.

Meanwhile, Harry thought of something else. Something that he needed to do and with which he was almost certain, Malfoy could assist him.

“Draco,” he called him by his first name almost without thinking, “there is a small favour I need from you. I need to get into Hogwarts.”

Draco frowned, indicating surprise and suspicion but didn’t reply, merely waiting for Harry to tell him more.

“I can’t explain why just yet,” Harry tried to justify, “but I’m not up to anything dodgy. I just need to help someone.”

“To help someone? At Hogwarts?” Malfoy jeered. “Potter, have you lost it or are you just plain lying to me? There is no-one but the ghosts left at the castle!”

“Ok, I haven’t got the time to go into everything and, you are wrong, there are still some teachers living there, although not many and probably not for long, but that is basically irrelevant. Look, I’m trying to help you as much as I can, please try to be a bit co-operative,” Harry snapped frustrated.

“You always want something in return, don’t you? I’m completely excluded from knowing anything your lot is up to and then you take for granted that I will help you.”

“It’s not my fault that the Order doesn’t trust you, is it? If you really want to join in you’re going to have to prove yourself to them somehow and you know as well as I do that’s not going to be easy. I have done all I can to give you a chance. I got you off having to make the Vow, for crying out loud! But I’m not allowed to tell you Order’s business,” 

“That’s only because you still don’t trust me! Do you think I’m stupid?” Draco spat out sneering.

“As a matter of fact, I do trust you. Why else would I have agreed to let you live at Headquarters?”

“Anyway, what is it that you want this time?”

“Ok, I won’t beat about the bush. I want you to tell me where exactly in Borgin & Burkes is the Vanishing Cabinet.” 

Draco raised his eyebrows and laughed. “How the hell do I know? The last time I used it was three months ago; it’s probably been moved.”

“I appreciate that,” Harry retorted. “On the other hand, it might not have.”

“Anyhow, how do you know that the other one is still in the castle? You could end up anywhere,” Malfoy reasoned.

“Well, that is a risk that I’m prepared to take.”

“Ok, then, I’ll tell you where it was last I saw it … if you tell me what you are after,” Draco replied defiantly. Despite the fact that Harry had been protecting him for a while now, Draco still derived a certain pleasure from making him jump through hoops.

“I don’t see why I should, especially since it’s you who wants to gain our trust. But anyway, what I want is a book that I know is at Hogwarts,” Harry told him.

“A book? A book about what?”

“Look, are you going to help me or are you not? I’m the one protecting you! We are only wasting time on these petty power games, but ok, I don’t suppose you’re going to get Death Eaters come after me since you’re in danger from them. I’ll tell you if you give me your word that you’ll tell me what I’m asking you.”

“Alright then, what the hell!” Malfoy conceded dispassionately.

“Fine, then, I believe the book contains details about the Wolfsbane potion. Happy now?”

Draco found it hard to understand why Potter was prepared to go to so much trouble to help out a werewolf. It was just so typical of him, though, Saint Potter!

“Alright, last time I saw it, it was in the basement. It was originally on display on the ground floor but I made Borges hide it, so that nobody would be tempted to buy it off him.” Harry grinned sardonically. He remembered the scene well.

“I’ll better draw you a map and, whatever you do, try not to get yourself captured or something!” Draco said in what Harry thought was a patronising way.

“Thanks for your concern,” Harry retorted derisively, “but I’m usually pretty good at keeping myself alive. Now, from now on, are we going to get back to acting like friends? I found your company a lot more tolerable when we were pretending to be.”

“I guess so,” Draco agreed half-heartedly.

The next shock the priest received happened upon his return. Harry had thought about using Polyjuice himself but hadn’t had a chance to mention it so far. Now, the time had come for him to explain.

“As I said earlier,” Harry started, “it’s not a good plan for me to turn up as myself, if you know what I mean.”

“As yourself?” the priest repeated flabbergasted. No, he didn’t know what he meant at all.

“Ok, I know that this is going to sound pretty spectacular, but we do have a potion that allows us to take somebody else’s appearance, just for a short while,” Harry said.

Draco, aware of how far fetched this was going to look in the priest’s eyes, let out an involuntary giggle.

Father Sean’s expression was now one of utter concern. If this wasn’t a joke, it was clearly sorcery at its best, which the Bible expressly forbade.

Harry froze for a moment, realising that this hadn’t gone down well and he quickly added, “Please relax, there is no harm in that. The person whose appearance is taken doesn’t suffer in any way or manner. Believe me, the place we’re going to is basically a wizarding High Street and, as I’ve said, it would neither be safe nor comfortable if I turn up as I am now. You see, half of my world wants me dead and the other half wants an autograph. There is nothing sordid in my motives; magic is only dark if used with bad intentions. Please, please, trust me on this one, it’s not any worse than making yourself invisible,” Harry practically pleaded, subconsciously adopting the same look he often used to mellow down Molly Weasley.

Father Sean was now speechless. Yes, he had actually accepted that they would use the Invisibility Cloak to protect Draco’s life, but this new idea seemed just beyond the pale. It was undeniable, though, he thought, this kid had charisma, a real knack to persuade others. Either that or it was a curiosity killed the cat situation, he had to admit. In any case, he stopped protesting.

On that note, Harry Apparated back to Grimmauld Place to collect some ingredients.

The first person he came across at Headquarters was Ginny. He felt quite relieved. He wouldn’t have wanted to have to explain what he was doing back there, and what his business with Malfoy was, to many other people.

“How is it going, Harry?” she asked excitedly as she kissed him on the lips.

“I’ve got the flat! The one you liked.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful! Let’s go and tell the others,” she suggested enthusiastically.

“No, yet, Gin, later. I’m in a bit of a hurry, actually.”

“But why? What’s being going on between Malfoy and you? Merlin’s beard, Harry, I’m supposed to be your girlfriend, why are you being so secretive?”

“I’m not being secretive. I promised him privacy, that’s all,” he protested, feeling a bit guilty about not being completely upfront with her but wishing to stay true to his word.

“Does this have anything to do with Narcissa’s ghost by any chance?”

“Well, Ginny, you’re a bit of a seer, aren’t you?” he replied with a cheeky smile. “How about you, anyhow? Did you manage to arrange to meet Bill?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s fine. In fact, I’m meeting him straight after he finishes work, at The Leakey Cauldron. He has to come here after that for the Order meeting,” she paused looking a little sad. “In fact, that meeting worries me, Harry, I know you got out of it but, look, we all know what the main topic on the agenda will be, don’t we? Poor Mum!”

Harry nodded but he couldn’t find any comforting words and gave her a tight hug instead.

“Anyway, why are you back here so early and on your own?” she asked.

“Well, can you help me pinch some Polyjuice from Mad Eye? Also, I think I’ve found a way of getting into Hogwarts, and actually thanks to Draco.”

“Can you trust him, though?”

“I think so. In fact, I think a lot of the problem with him is front, actually. I don’t reckon he hates me as much as he makes out, but I guess old habits die hard. After all, you wouldn’t be supporting Voldemort if he had killed your mum, would you?” Harry brought to Draco’s defence.

“Harry, I wouldn’t have supported him in the first place. I mean, say if an Order member killed my mum, I wouldn’t just jump and join the Death Eaters, would I?”

“Fair point, but I do trust my instincts. By the way, what I intend to do is to get into the Vanishing Cabinet at Borgin & Burkes, to get into the Room of Requirement to retrieve Snape’s book. I’m pretty sure the Wolfsbane potion is written in there. Ok, I’ve confided this to Draco,” Harry told her speaking rather fast, “if something goes wrong, for whatever reason, talk to him. After all, he spent enough time in there last year himself!”
“You've told Draco! Have you lost the plot?”

“Ok, you’re the second person who tells me that today,” he said smiling. “I’ve taken a small gamble. He’s in danger from Voldemort so he has little choice but to be on our side. Also, he was a Death Eater; he’s bound to know stuff. I think he will be useful to us in the end. He can be an arrogant prat, but I guess I do trust him. Anyway, Polyjuice, babe, quickly!”

“Ok, whose hairs are you going to use? You could have some of mine but since I am going to Diagon Alley myself later, maybe not!” Ginny said playfully.

“I’m human, Gin! I couldn’t just transform myself into you and be in complete control, could I now?” he said laughing out loud but blushing fairly strongly.

“You fancy me that much?” Ginny asked flirtatiously, as she kissed him passionately.

“That much and a lot more,” he replied returning her kiss. “But now I’m really in a hurry, sorry. I’ll meet up with you later at The Leakey Cauldron though.”

Surely enough, Ginny run up the stairs to the bedroom Moody had been using when staying overnight. Since Alastor had, for some time, being boasting about having Veritaserum readily at hand, there was a very strong chance that he kept a reasonable range of potions in this room. Ginny knew he had gone out on Order’s duties, which she thought it was fortunate. What she hadn’t counted on was the fact that Moody, in his infinite wisdom, had placed enchantments on the door. She went back downstairs as quickly as she could and told Harry the score. They had to think, and fast.

“Ok, this is only a thought, but I have the feeling that I will be let in. I’m Secret Keeper and I own the house after all,” Harry said trying to remain hopeful.

Ginny shrugged. “We can try, I suppose, but I don’t really think it’s likely to work for rooms inside the house. I bet there is a password or something, something that only Mad Eye knows perhaps.”

“Ok, as you say, it’s worth a try. I would have thought that the Secret Keeper and the Head of the Order would have access to the whole of Headquarters, although I must admit, I’m only guessing.”

“Let’s go for it then, Harry. It’s the only hope we have!”

Although the situation wasn’t scary per se, Harry’s heart was pounding because the matter had now become urgent. He had been gone ages. He needed to get back and he needed the potion! 

Now, they were both standing just outside the door. Harry attempted to set the ball in motion by saying very determinedly: “Please let me in, I’m the Secret Keeper and the owner of this house.”

He didn’t have to wait long. A voice just like Moody’s commanded: “Tap the door with your wand then.”

Harry did this. The voice spoke again: “How do I know that you’re not someone who has taken Potter’s wand?”

Harry shook his head in frustration. “Co’mon, Moody, I’m in a hurry!”

“Ok, let’s see. If you are whom you say you are, what were you doing with Dumbledore the night he died?”

“Very clever trick, Moody. What a sneaky way to try and make me break my promise. You know I will not tell you that!”

“Very well, let’s try something else… What do you most desire?”

Harry hesitated for a moment; various conflicting thoughts entered his mind at once. His strongest desire involved destroying the Horcruxes but he couldn't disclose that.

“Hesitation, I see… Maybe you’re trying to figure out what Harry would think. Prove me wrong.”

Being prompted like that caused Harry to blurt out without thinking: “Ginny.”

He went extremely red. She started to laugh really loudly, blushing as well.

The voice continued: “Umm, that could have been an easy guess. Another one, give me your most embarrassing moment.”

“Just now, what I said just now.”

“Another easy guess. Your most embarrassing moment apart from that, then?”

It had to be something that only he knew, or at least that no-one else in the magical world could guess. “Ok, landing in the roof of my Muggle school before I knew I was a wizard.”

“Now, why do you need to enter?”

“Because I need a potion to help someone,” Harry tried to see if he could get away with being slightly vague.

“To help who?” Moody’s voice questioned.

“Remus Lupin.” 

“You may enter then, but be quick,” the voice finally accepted to Harry and Ginny’s relief.

Harry pushed the door open and took a look around. There was a wardrobe there. His guess was that this was the most likely place for Alastor to have hidden his stuff. He hoped that this wasn’t similarly protected by another bunch of enchantments. His hopes came true because the Alohomora spell did the trick. And there it was, in a rather large phial, Harry recognised the dark and muddy looking bubbling substance straight away.

“Thanks, Moody. I’m sorry to have intruded,” he muttered.

Meanwhile, Ginny had got to her mother’s room and taken a few hairs from her hairbrush. She smiled satisfied. Now, she had just had a most cunning idea!

Harry Apparated back without transforming just yet.

“Please, try not to be too shocked, “ Harry said to McKenna, “I’ll go into the bathroom and when I next appear I will look like a woman and my voice will also sound like hers.”

Draco threw a curious look at Harry, “Who are you going to transform into?”

“Molly Weasley. She’s my friends’ mother,” he added looking towards the priest. “I have an idea for whom we should say you are, also. I believe she has a Muggle, I mean, non-magical, Irish cousin. We’re bound to bump into someone who knows her, so I think that should be credible enough.”

“Do you guys always have to lie about everything?” asked Father Sean disapprovingly.

“Only on special occasions,” Harry replied smiling cheekily, trying to put him at ease.

“Why, also, are you two so intent in taking me to this place?” the priest asked.

“To show you our world, Father. If you are to help us, you need to experience it, so that things don’t seem so outlandish to you anymore, that’s all,” Harry explained.

Harry went to the bathroom and proceeded at once by adding Molly’s hair to the potion. The substance began to froth and turned bright orange. Very apt, he thought, given Molly’s hair colour. It didn’t taste too vile, after all. The transformation was almost immediate. Harry felt really strange in Molly Weasley’s plump body. His glasses were now making him feel slightly dizzy. He realised that was because he now had perfect vision without them. He took them off but stuck them in Molly’s robes just in case. The effects of the potion would only last one hour, so he also remembered to pour the rest of the liquid into a small flask that Ginny had given him. This container was originally intended for carrying fire-whiskey and had once belonged to Charlie.

Father McKenna had been trying to prepare himself for a while now for what he was about to see, yet, the impact on his brain was still quite strong.

Draco just burst out laughing.

“Ok, ready now?” Harry prompted his companions, not wanting to waste any more valuable time.

“The Lord better forgive me for all the sins I’m committing today, and you two also, for persuading me to do it,” McKenna commented shaking his head as if doubting the wisdom of his decision to enter the wizarding world.

“He will, sir,” the spitting image of Molly told him reassuringly, “it’s all for a good cause.”

They had spent so much time preparing for the trip that Harry thought it sensible to Apparate instead of using the Muggle tube. “Get yourself under the cloak, Draco,” he commanded, “now, Father, hold my arm. This is going to feel weird. In fact, it’s a bit unpleasant, but it will not last long and we’ll be there instantly.”

The priest hesitated, but he had gone so far that he couldn’t pull out now. He had promised the kids to help them, so he had to stick to his word, even if he was still feeling rather apprehensive.

Father Sean suddenly felt squashed and breathless but the sensation was over soon enough, as Harry had said. In fact, that reminded him a lot of what science fiction films call teleportation.

They were now in a place that a street sign indicated was Charring Cross. His environment, so far, felt normal. They stood in front of a bookshop and a record outlet. Harry tugged Father Sean by his sleeve and brought him into a pub, which, until that moment, he had been unable to see.

The tavern was small and shabby. A round-faced barmaid was collecting glasses by sending them with her wand, floating through the air, to the top of the counter. A group of half a dozen people, who looked to the priest as if they have come from a Halloween fancy-dress party, sat chatting at a large round table by the window. He very much wanted to capture in his mind everything about the place, yet it was hard to do this without giving away his astonishment.

“Molly, how good to see you,” greeted cheerfully a roughed looking, toothless man who appeared to be the bartender.

“Tom, this is my cousin Sean, from Ireland,” Harry said confidently, “he’s just visiting us. He’s a squib,” the fake Mrs. Weasley whispered to the landlord, hoping to explain away the priest’s gob-smacked expression.

“Good to meet yeh. Where about in Ireland are yeh from, sir?” asked Tom making small-talk. 

“My family are from Limerick actually,” McKenna replied truthfully.

“How is business?” Harry asked casually.

“Terrible!” Tom complained. “Everyone is scared out of their wits, not surprisingly, well, since You-Know-Who is at large, and it’s getting worse. Since Snape killed Dumbledore I’ve had very little custom, to be honest.”

Snape? McKenna had heard this name before but where? That was it, one of his parishioners had the same surname. He was a teacher, he recalled. Obviously many people must share the same surname, although this was a bit of an uncommon one.

Harry now drew his gaze to where Draco must be and made a motion for him to sit down, before any of the customers bumped into him accidentally. Malfoy understood.

“Would you like to try a Butterbeer or perhaps a traditional mead, dear?” Harry offered the priest, trying to imitate Molly Weasley’s turn of phrase. “Mead is a bit like ale, and Butterbeer, well, is hard to describe, but it’s a low alcohol drink,” Harry explained quickly in a very low voice.

“I’ll try the Butterbeer, if that’s alright,” he replied.

“Two Butterbeers, please, Tom!” Harry ordered.

At that point, Harry cast the Muffliato charm non-verbally and was now free to explain that from then on people wouldn’t be able to listen in, that they would not pay attention to their conversation, and so that they could now talk freely.

After finishing their drink, Harry decided it was now time to show their guest Diagon Alley. They said good-bye to the landlord and walked towards a courtyard at the back of the pub. Molly’s figure tapped a brick with her wand. An ancient archway had now appeared and a cobbled street became visible.

Harry explained a little sadly that Diagon Alley used to be a vibrant place, often crowded with shoppers. “I wish you could have seen it then,” he told him reminiscing. Under the Muffliato charm, once again, he recounted how surprised he had been himself when, aged eleven, he had entered that world for the first time.

They went past a cauldron shop; on the opposite side of the road was the apothecary.

“You may find this one interesting,” said Harry leading the way, “it’s a bit like a complimentary medicine shop, only magical, of course. They sell the best headache remedy ever.”

The three of them stepped in. A young woman asked them politely how she could be of service. Harry decided to purchase an ounce of the headache painkilling powder he had just talked about.

Father McKenna looked around fascinated. There were jars everywhere, filled with all manners of herbs and powders, resting on self-supporting shelves. Feathers from birds Father Sean had never seen hanged from the ceiling. He must admit the odour of the place was rather pungent. Harry spotted him wrinkling his nose and apologised whispering, “I must admit they could do with including a range of aromatherapy products.” The priest smiled.

Malfoy was now getting rather bored. He had been born in that world, he’d seen it all before… Being invisible wasn’t nearly as much fun now as it would have been in his happier days at Hogwarts. However, in no time at all, Draco was brought back from his boredom with a bang. He couldn’t contain a loud cry as a dreamy blond girl stumbled upon him.

“Luna? Mr Lovegood?” Molly’s impersonation exclaimed in surprise. “This is my cousin Sean, by the way, Sean McKenna,” she said introducing them.

“Mr McKenna, lovely to meet you. I’m sorry that an Umgubular Slashkilter just treaded on your foot. He treaded on me too,” she said matter-of–factly in a slightly singsong voice. Draco, Harry and the priest sighed with relief.

“Don’t worry,” Father Sean replied looking, if that were possible, more confused than ever before, although he was trying hard not to show it. Unknown to him, his confusion would not have raised an eyebrow with anyone who knew Luna, wizard or not.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, Mrs Weasley” Xenophilius said kindly.

“Thank you, Mr Lovegood. Terrible times we’re living in,” she replied courteously. “Good to see you, too, but I’m afraid we’re in a bit of a rush, dears,” Harry said trying to brush them off. Sweet as Luna might be, the last thing they needed at that moment in time was a long conversation about Snorkacks.

“They’re lovely people, Father, but they’re, umm … a bit out there, even for our world. Maybe her mother’s death affected her in a weird way,” Harry tried to explain.

“Harry, what was Mr Lovegood talking about when he referred to a loss?” Father Sean had reached the conclusion that life expectancy seemed a bit short in the magical world, which he was beginning to find rather worrying.

“Ok, the very bad news first, Molly, who I’m supposed to be, is my best friend’s and my girlfriend’s mother. She’s actually a bit like a mother to me, too," Harry commented fondly. "Her elder son got married to a beautiful French girl, just this summer.” Harry continued,” Voldemort’s lot, the guy who killed my parents’ followers, found out, they call themselves Death Eaters. They kidnapped my Muggle aunt, just as I had sort of made up with her. I couldn’t do a thing,” Harry continued, his now brown eyes beginning to fill up, “We have formed an organisation ourselves to defeat this evil wizard, one of the members put a spell on me to immobilise me, because he thought they wanted me, to keep me safe.” He continued, “a few of our people went to rescue my aunt; in the battle that ensued, the bride was killed and she was pregnant!” 

“Oh, this is horrific!”

Harry wasn't sure what he had blurted out that Fleur had been pregnant as he now realised that the priest was likely to oppose sex before marriage; yet again, he hadn't commented on this. Harry guessed that the thought of a young expecting woman being killed had been more of a shock.

“Luna’s mother, on the other hand, died accidentally. At least she wasn’t murdered,” Harry commented as they past Quidditch Quality Supplies.

“This, sir, is my favourite shop. It sells broom-sticks,” Harry said enthusiastically. Father Sean eyed mesmerasied the moving posters on the shop window. “It’s our sport. Draco and I both play it, but for different teams. It’s a lot of fun, though!”

“We’re both good at it, sir,” Malfoy just had to add, anticipating that Potter may start bragging about his own abilities.

“Flying brooms!" the priest couldn't but exclaim, but, impressed enough to keep any  prejudice at bay, he added, "sport is good, you know. It teaches you team-building and discipline. I got a few kids from my estate to stay away from crime by getting them interested in sport.”

The two boys smiled. “The game is called Quidditch and it’s brilliant! What sport do you play, Father?” Harry asked with curiosity.

“Oh, just a bit of football,” he said timidly.

Such powers, such abilities! McKenna was now in awe. "Why do you think I may be able to help you, when your kind can do such unbelievable things?" the priest humbly asked.

"Because I reckon that Muggles have magic too. It's hard to explain," Harry said. "It seems that Muggle religions talk also of love and of positive thoughts, like prayers and you believe you can cast evil away, I don't know, I just have this feeling that you can help us understand these things. Also you have miracles. Jesus did lots of these, didn't He?"

"Yes, He did, but, Harry, miracles aren't common, saints can sometimes perform them but I certainly can't, well ... Now," he added a bit wary about the fact that Harry seem to be making parallels between miracles and wizarding magic, "you are not thinking on the lines that Jesus was like your kind, are you?"

"I don't really know, actually but, would it really matter that much? I mean, He did good, didn't He? Would he really matter that much how He was able to do things as long as He did good?"

Father Sean's expression denoted concern. Harry realised that this was getting too deep and decided to change the topic.

He showed him into Gringotts, but before he did this, he warned him that the bank was run by goblins and described what they looked like, in a feeble attempt to cushion yet another shock. Once inside, Father McKenna looked at them with absolute bewilderment but also with respect. Human-like creatures indeed!

"Why do your people do not wish for us to know you exist though?" the priest asked.

"Well..." Harry wasn't too sure how to best approach this subject. "At various times in history, we were persecuted, hunted down, burn alive even!"

Father Sean nodded, his eyes looking sad, "Yes, umm... It seems that even men of the Church have sometimes been misguided. I'm sorry," he said sincerely.

"It's not your fault," Harry told him reassuringly.

After that, on a more cheerful note, they proceeded towards the twins’ joke shop.

“This place is truly amazing! I'd introduce you to the owners if it wasn't for the fact that I l look just like their mother! Harry laughed. "But now I need to go. I'll meet you back later at the Leaky Cauldron and, Draco, if I’m not back in two hours, please contact Ginny. Have fun!” he said as he Apparated out.

Chapter 28: Trials and Tribulations
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After taking a brief look at “Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes,” which amused Father Sean no end, Draco started feeling a bit uneasy about continuing the tour of Diagon Alley. He hated to admit it even to himself, but he had felt more reassured when Potter had been there. Being invisible in the sole company of a Muggle who, at any time, was likely to attract someone’s suspicions, didn’t make him feel particularly relaxed; hence, under the Muffliato charm, he told his companion that it would be best if they killed a bit of time in a Muggle café, or browsing through the shops in Charring Cross, until they were due to meet up with Harry again in about two hours time.

Malfoy took off the cloak just as they were about to re-enter Muggle London and stashed it in his pocket. It was a hot summer day. He had been left out of the round of drinks at the Leakey Cauldron, as he had then been invisible, and now felt somewhat thirsty. The first place they stumbled across was a popular pub exhibiting colourful parasols in its large outdoor garden. They decided to join the crowd and sit outside. 

Father McKenna, who had, to put it mildly, had an eventful day, thought that there was no harm in ordering a pint of beer each.  When he returned with the drinks, neither of them spoke immediately. Malfoy was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable, as well as a little wary of what his companion might have thought of their world, but decided not to pursue that topic just yet.  Instead, opened the conversation by asking casually: “What did you think of Harry, by the way?”

“I like him, actually, “ McKenna replied, but Draco noticed that he looked as he was mulling something over. “I hope you don’t mind me prying, but why do I get the impression that you weren’t always friends?”

This was a rather direct comment, or worse; a rather direct question. How the hell had he worked that one out? After all, they had acted like old mates in his presence. 

Draco shrugged but said nothing.

“Look, son, I come across many people your age all the time in my work, I just can tell these things. There’s no need to be secretive with me, is there now?” Father Sean said encouragingly. 

“Well, he didn’t want to be my friend from the beginning, that’s why, “ Draco blurted out defensively, telling only half the story.

“Why? I wonder… After all, he seems happy to help you out now.”

Draco shrugged again, beginning to feel a little exasperated. He knew the priest was likely to take to Harry, but then again, that had been the very reason why he had engaged Potter’s help in the first place. He could have merely related to him that they had been in rival houses at school, and that there had been animosity between those two houses since time immemorial.  However, he sensed that Father Sean had an incline that there had been something more personal; hence he replied: “I’m not sure. We first met just here, in Diagon Alley, in a shop and, even after it had become clear that he’d been raised as a Muggle, I still tried to befriend him when we met again on the train to school. He just wouldn’t have any of it!”

McKenna frowned sensing that there had to be more to it than that. “Draco, although I’m not familiar with your world, I don’t like your tone or the sound of the terms you’re using.  Raised as a Muggle? Muggles are simply people without magical abilities, aren't they? I mean, people like myself . Why should it matter that Harry had been brought up that way?” 

Draco wasn't sure what was the best way to reply to that. "Well, he didn't seem to know about Quidditch or anything. I could see that we had very little common ground.  I guess that wizards from pure-blood families like mine find it difficult to relate to Muggle-borns," he added not wanting to go into the fact that they actually considered them plainly inferior.

Despite Malfoy's efforts to conceal the fact, Father Sean realised that his kind saw themselves as the elite . Now, without having gone looking for it, he almost had the answer to something that had been bothering him. That was it! That was possibly one of the reasons why Harry had thought it irrelevant whether Jesus Christ was a wizard or not. It would appear that the youngster had been subjected to prejudice for potentially being either. His relatives had rejected him for being able to do magic and, some people in his own world, for having been raised outside of it. Naturally, he had grown to hate such distinctions. Of course, the kid was very misguided. Jesus was the Son of God, neither Muggle nor wizard but, who could blame him really from thinking like that? After all, his aunt and uncle had banned him from attending Church as a small child; his religious instruction was not likely to have been very comprehensive. He had probably just taken a simplistic approach and made a quick mental connection between miracles and magic. He thought it was in order for him to explain the core of his beliefs to these boys properly, but in due course; further trust needed to be won first.

Draco realised that McKenna was now deep in thought but let him be. It was the priest who finally re-established the conversation: “Now, tell me the truth, did you make any comments about him being a Muggle or something? Is that why he didn’t want to be your friend?”

“Not really, I only asked him if his parents had been wizards and he said that they had,” Malfoy replied dispassionately, “but you see, he chose other people, riff-raff, actually,” the teenager let it escape.

“Riff-raff? McKenna repeated in a tone of voice that conveyed that he awaited  an explanation. 

“Umm…” Draco was now at a loss as to how to get out of that one.

“Look, son, you probably mean poor people or something. Well, I work with poor people; I come from a humble background myself. I don’t dream of riches, or glory, or of being at the Vatican. I believe it’s my path to help out, best I can, those in need. Also, even if you mean people who have made mistakes; Jesus didn’t mind what people’s pasts were. He accepted former prostitutes and ruthless tax collectors. Many of my parishioners had taken the wrong path at some point; I get young girls who got pregnant at a very young age, people who have thieved even … I don’t make excuses for them but all I can do is try and point them in the right direction. I don’t turn them away, just as I didn’t shut the door on you either.”

That had been some speech, Draco thought as he stared at the ground. He was now running out of ammunition. “Ok, it’s also that Harry’s always had this martyr complex about him and he always manages to get what he wants; like playing in the Quidditch team in his first year, when no-one else at his age was allowed!” he exclaimed in sheer frustration.

Father Sean now smiled. “Son, I think you’ve been jealous of the wrong person,” he said in a kind and patient voice, sincerely trying to grasp where Draco was coming from.

Malfoy frowned feeling rather affronted, “I’m not jealous of him, why should I be? What’s made you think that?”

Father Sean gave him a knowing smile. “Look, Harry ain’t always right, of course not. I’m sure he has many faults but, don’t we all? Both of you seem mischievous to me, prone to rule-breaking, but what I see in him is that he hasn’t got a malicious bone in his body. I don’t know how to explain this, but I think there is a lot of warmth and openness in that kid; which, I must say, I find amazing after what he’s been through. Don’t get me wrong, Draco, I don’t prefer him to you, I make a point of treating people equally. Also, I know you’ve lost your mum too, but he’s been an orphan since he was one and he wasn’t particularly loved or pampered by his relatives, from what I can gather. How can you envy him?” McKenna asked, shaking his head and ignoring Malfoy’s non-verbal protests. “At least, you can remember your mother’s love, he can’t. What’s more, imagine what it must have been like for the darkest wizard ever to be after your blood since you were a baby. Ok, I know you yourself are in serious danger now, but at least you hadn’t always lived like this. Anyway, this ain’t a competition about who’s had a rougher time. You’re staying in his house now; if you didn’t get along before, he must have a good heart to had allowed for this, don’t you think?”

Draco was now searching his memory high and wide for a counter-argument. He could explain that the Dark Lord had fallen out of power, which even Potter had mentioned, and hadn’t been a danger to him until he’d entered Hogwarts.  However, he had to concede that Harry had not been able to relax much from that moment on. Of course, he remembered well the time when he had almost killed him with the Septumsemptra spell. Yet, again, he had tried an Unforgivable on him and, it was true that Potter was helping him now. He guessed that, perhaps, they were now even and replied in a really tired tone: “All right, Harry and I are trying to be friends now. Can we please let it rest?”

Father McKenna simply nodded. At least that seemed like a step in the right direction.

“Miss Weasley! Another surprise from your family today!” exclaimed Tom enthusiastically from behind the bar of the Leaky Cauldron. “Your mother and her cousin were in here earlier.”

“Yes, I know,” replied Ginny with a knowing grin.

She ordered a Butterbeer and waited for some twenty minutes. Something must have cropped up, she thought. It was not like Bill to be late.   She waited for another ten minutes, anxiously sipping her Butterbeer and constantly checking her watch.

When Bill finally arrived, he seemed in a rush and looked completely worn out. She didn’t expect her brother to be particularly cheerful.  The murder of his wife and unborn child less than two months before had had a truly devastating effect on him. Yet, there was something else, something more; Ginny just knew it.

Bill ordered a single Fire-whiskey, which he downed almost at once. It appeared pretty clear to Ginny that her brother had not desire to linger around.

She followed him without questioning through Diagon Alley until they arrived at the back of the twins' shop, where a staircase led to the flat above. Bill hadn’t been able to face living in the apartment he had bought with Fleur and had been staying with Fred and George for a while now.

The twins didn’t close the shop particularly early. Although business was slow in comparison to what it had been before the events at the Astronomy Tower, it was one of the few establishments that managed to put a much needed smile into people’s faces; thus it had still some custom late into the afternoon. That meant that Bill and Ginny were on their own and could talk very much on a one to one basis.

The flat was only a two bedroom one, as it had only been intended for Fred and George at first. To accommodate Bill, they had magically extended the living room area and created a separate space that now served as their brother's provisional bedroom. The whole place was decorated in bright and vibrant colours and it reminded Ginny a bit of a bachelor’s pad. The walls were covered with posters of their favourite Quidditch team, moving images advertising the latest broomsticks and bill-boards promoting concerts of rock bands such as The Weird Sisters.

The living room itself was relatively untidy.  It appeared smaller than it was since it was cluttered from top to bottom with all manners of prototypes for new novelty products. The kitchen, although not dirty per se, was in clear need of a diligent house elf. Despite all this, the overall feeling was that of a fun and welcoming place.

Ginny’s eldest brother offered her a drink. She followed him into kitchen automatically.

“Ok, do the twins still have some of that goblin wine that Mundungus smuggled?” she suggested trying her luck, aware that the occasion, although not precisely a happy one, was special.

Bill smiled at Ginny cheekily but reminded her that she was only sixteen.

“Com’on big bro, you know the twins would let me have a glass.”

“Ok, but only one glass and don’t tell Mum,” he replied adopting a semi-parental role.

He conjured up two glasses, picked up the said bottle and they both sat on the sofa.

“You look really worried,” Ginny started taking a small sip of wine.

Bill, at this point, avoided direct eye contact but she could perceive the fiery Weasley temper taking hold of him. “Ok, I guess you are all going to find out sooner or later, “ he said, taking a gulp of his own drink. “Well, I don’t know where to begin, really. I’ve just resigned from Gringotts.”

“Resigned! But why?” she exclaimed. “I knew there was something,” she muttered to herself.

“Well, it’s the Ministry’s doing. It’s not safe for me to work there anymore. They have sent me an owl summoning me for an inquiry, so that I can prove that I’m not a werewolf. As you surely know by now, they are forcing all werewolves to come forward…”

“Bill! she started horrified, “but you are not a werewolf, for Merlin’s sake! Fenrir wasn’t transformed when he bit you!”

“Yes, I know, but I have all these scars on my face, don’t I? It’s not as if I can hide having been bitten. Anyhow, it makes very little difference to Umbridge and her cronies.”

“Damn the bloody Ministry! Oh, Bill!” she was now almost crying partly out of pure anger. She gave him a tight hug and brushed his long ginger hair softly with her slender fingers. Bill had been her favourite brother as a child. He was the eldest, her big protector. Now, he was the vulnerable one and she couldn’t help but feeling oddly motherly towards him.

“You can’t continue to stay here in that case. They’ll find you here!  An inquiry!  This is all a gimmick, if you ask me.  We all know that there is no such a thing as a fair trial if Umbridge is involved,” Ginny said in a very urgent tone. “You must come to Headquarters. This place is not nearly as protected. Everyone knows who your family is and, let’s face it, having a brother like Percy as Umbridge’s right hand is not going to help matters either!” she added, pronouncing her estranged brother’s name with utter spite.

“I know…” Bill conceded resigned. “The last news that Mum needs, especially tonight when we’re having the meeting…”

Ginny closed her eyes for a split second and shook her head. “You see, they are in with the Death Eaters, Bill, that’s why they’re doing all this; persecuting other species, taking Harry’s money, everything. We got to defeat them, Bill, no bloody matter what or how!" she cried out, her alert brown eyes blazing. "Also, sorry to bring this up now, I know you’re not having a good day, but it’s just dead important.  If Voldemort gets Harry’s mum’s wand, he’ll find out what she did and our cause will be as good as lost. You’ve got to help us!” She curled her lips and gazed at her brother waiting for a response.

Bill sighed. “The wand, yes, I’m well aware of that. I’ve tried to find out what I could but, in all truth, I don’t think the task is really doable,” he told her sullenly.

“Look,” she said softly as she stroked his hair once again, “you know Harry well enough to realise that he’s going to do this with your help or without it. You have worked for the bank since you left Hogwarts.  You even went to Egypt to train as a code-breaker; you must know lots of stuff that can help him,” she concluded, resting her head on her knuckles, expectant.

“Harry, yes… Ginny, he worries me, you know. Seriously! You’re going out with him, aren’t you?” Bill asked preoccupied.

“Yes, Bill, and please don’t give me that look. Harry is a really nice person, actually. He can have his moments, but don’t worry, I can handle him,” she added with a twinkle.

“Gin, I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life or whom to date or not, but look, you have picked probably the most dangerous guy in the wizarding world.”

“Dangerous? Harry?” she shook her head in disbelief, but then she immediately realised that many people had died trying to protect either his life or his cause, including Fleur.

“Don’t get me wrong. We all like Harry. Mum all but adopted him as soon as he set foot on The Burrow. I feel for him too, Ginny, but his luck will run out sooner or later and it doesn’t help either that he’s one of the most reckless people I’ve ever come across. More skilled wizards than him have died attempting lesser feats.”

“It’s not a question of being reckless. If Voldemort gets held of the wand, all he has to do, as I said, is do Priori Incantatem and that’ll be it. You’re in the Order too, for crying out loud! If the goblins won’t co-operate, we’re left with no choice!”

“I take that Ron and Hermione are in this too, and you, yourself.”

“Bill, of course they are, yes. Also, surely, you don’t expect me to sit on the fence like a coward and let the others risk their lives when in fact is in everyone’s interest, including mine, that Voldemort and the Ministry be overthrown?” she retorted, feeling again like the relegated child everyone thought she ought to be.

“Sis,” he said moving closer to her and taking her hands in his, “listen to me.  I’m not trying to patronise you, but the lot of you should leave this to the grown ups; you just don’t have sufficient training or resources. You must understand also that your involvement with Harry is likely to lead to one of two things; either he’ll get killed, and you’ll be completely devastated or you yourself will be targeted, just like his aunt was. Imagine what that would do to Mum!”

“Bill, the three of them have accomplished amazing things already. I honestly think that people underestimate them because of their age and besides, I love him. I can’t help that. He finished with me at the end of last term because he was thinking like you do; because he wanted to keep me safe, but look, I’m a blood-traitor’s daughter and Harry’s best mate’s sister; nothing will keep me safe.” She paused for a moment and then added: “Ok, sorry for reminding you but, with your hand on your heart, would you have stopped seeing Fleur if you had known how it would all end?”

Perhaps she had gone too far with this question, however she felt that it was something that needed to be said. Bill now gave her a sad and almost resigned smile. This was the same person who, aged four, had taken it upon herself to borrow and old broom and had taught herself to fly.

“Ok,” he conceded: “tell me what the plan is exactly and I’ll try to tell you the obstacles that I know you guys are likely to encounter.”

Ginny smiled relieved and kissed her brother on the cheek.

Draco had explained to Harry that, of late, customers had been allowed to Apparate straight into Borges & Burkes, as the owners understood that many wizards were not longer keen on being seen entering the premises. They had sophisticated anti-theft devices in place, so they didn’t need to fear people taking items from unmanned areas of the shop undetected.

Harry had been forced to take a further dose of Polyjuice only recently, as the hour the potion allowed had been almost up before they left the apothecary. Thinking back, he should have escorted Draco and the priest back to the Muggle world and taken the cloak back with him. Why did he have to always act first and think later!  But it was too late for that now. All he could do, at that stage was to try to clear his mind and concentrate on landing on the basement. It wouldn’t do to pop out of thin air in the shape of Mrs. Weasley in front of a shop-attendant!

As he was experiencing the uncomfortably familiar feeling of compression, he became aware that, even if he managed to turn up somewhere where there was no-one in sight, Apparating entailed making a loud popping noise. Before this thought had a chance to leave his mind, he realised to his horror, that the popping sound had been indeed louder than he had anticipated.

The place was in almost complete darkness and most of the objects there were covered in at least half an inch of dust, which added to the eerie atmosphere and to his feeling of unease. He took a tentative step to ensure that nobody was about and as he did so, he trampled over something.

The object in question had been hanging from a wall and it appeared to be a large, in fact very large, human skeleton, probably that of a half-giant. To make matters worse, Molly’s colourful robes had got entangled with it. Harry tried, best he could, to disengage himself from the sordid thing. As he did this, he heard footsteps coming from the direction of the staircase, which was located at an approximate forty-five degrees angle from him, from what he could vaguely make out.

His heart almost stopped. He hid, as quickly and silently as he could, behind a large chest of drawers, taking care not to come in contact with a suit of armour which stood next to it, as his intuition told him it was likely to be cursed. He crouched as close to the ground as he was able to, trying to contain his breath, wand at the ready.

To his relief, the footsteps became fainter and, after a few moments, disappeared altogether. Maybe he had been lucky this once, but he had to act quickly as someone was bound to come down looking for something at some stage. He was now trying really hard to locate the Vanishing Cabinet but to no avail. Had it been moved after all? It was hard to tell since he could hardly see anything. Of course he could always cast the Lumos spell but he was afraid of the light being visible from the top of the stairs. He walked around very slowly, very carefully…as he wasn’t particularly keen on making any more noise and also realised that most of the stock stored in that basement was likely to be dangerous. That place did certainly put most Muggle horror films’ sets to shame.

Finally, as he was beginning to despair thinking that the cabinet wasn’t there, he saw the black and gold trunk-like artefact from the corner of his eye. Not wanting to waste another second, he swiftly took the lid off the object, climbed inside it and placed the top back on.

Although he realised he was just being silly, Harry found hard to shake off the spooky feeling of being inside a coffin.

Meanwhile, Bill and Ginny had started to discuss the possibilities - or more like it, the problems - Harry and his friends would encounter at Gringotts. In the strictest of confidence, Bill had begun to explain to her some of the secrets he had learnt whilst training in Egypt. Ginny suspected that there may be a connection between the bank and the ancient world of the pharaohs, but had never dreamt that some of the secret passages at the wizarding bank had been modelled on the Great Pyramid of Giza.

“Okay, Ginny, let’s start from the beginning. Lily Potter’s wand is considered to be a high security item, an object of state importance, yes?”

Ginny nodded.

“I cannot be one hundred per cent certain, but my guess is that it is likely to be kept in Garbhan’s - the Chief Banker - own vault,” continued Bill. “The Ministry has its own treasury vaults at Gringotts too and, surely, they would have preferred for Lily’s wand to be placed in one of them. However, it’s not in the goblins' nature to hand over such a sought after piece to the wizarding authorities just like that; especially since Umbridge has never made a secret of her abhorrence of all other species. Only the highest-ranking officer at Gringotts would be allowed to host this, under their own regulations. I also know that Garbhan himself has tried to protect Harry’s wealth from the Minister’s clutches in a roundabout way. Yet, he cannot be seen as conspiring with Harry, or the Ministry would step in and take over.”

Ginny nodded and listened very attentively.

“There is also a protective mechanism in place that gets activated at a certain depth into the entrails of the tunnel system. This is known as the thief’s downfall.  It makes the carts come off their railings and any magical concealment disappear. Now, Harry is the legitimate owner of his mother’s wand. This was also reinforced by Dumbledore’s will, who was its previous custodian. He and he alone can go that far down without the bankers’ co-operation,” Bill explained.

“Yes, Harry has already guessed that,” Ginny assented. “He mentioned the poem at the entrance, where it says that some misfortune would come your way if you seek treasure that was never yours.”

“Very well thought, Harry, I must say. So, he’s been planning this for some time?” Bill asked.

“Well, since shortly after his birthday really, when he discovered that the goblins would let him have neither his money nor the wand,” she expanded.

“Okay, Gin, I can see that he’s bright and extremely courageous. I can understand why you’ve fallen for him. Also, yes, he has almost grown up in our house; he’s a bit like a brother to me, too. Obviously I'm not against him. I know I sounded harsh earlier, but I just think that his chances of surviving what he’s planning to do are very thin on the ground.”

Ginny would have normally thought that Bill was exaggerating, being overly zealous; but this time her instincts told her that her brother was just being realistic.

“Yes, but in Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, the bank was successfully broken into, was it not?” she retorted, trying to remain hopeful.

“Well, we believe You-Know-Who himself had a hand on that, but it’s still hard to know for a fact what really happened then. Anyhow, going back to our main topic, since I’m going to have to leave soon for the Order’s meeting, let me add one more thing. I don’t think he should enter the bank as himself. He also shouldn’t try to use concealed magic at the door, since there are Probity Probes to spot that.

“How is he supposed to get in there, though?”

“Well, that’s a very good question. Has he not thought of that?” enquired Bill wondering whether the kids had a proper plan at all.

“Well, I suppose one of us could create a distraction, cause some kind of commotion. I dunno,” she argued a little agitated. “Anyway, why can’t he just turn up there as a customer and, once inside, use the Invisibility Cloak or something.”

“Let’s see. The Ministry is aware that Harry was given that credit card. This happened before the new legislation on inheritance tax was passed. After that, however, Garbhan has had to pretend that Harry’s been using it without Gringotts’ authorisation; in fact, that they, themselves, have been the victims of fraud. The Ministry has access to the figures, so they must know by now that Harry has deposited large amounts in Muggle bank accounts. Tracking these is more complex, as Muggle financiers are bound by their own laws. In particular, by what they call the Data Protection Act, which forbids them from giving away customers’ details to anyone other than their own authorities.”

“So, Umbridge has been outsmarted, in other words?” Ginny commented cheering.

“I wouldn’t get excited, Gin. If Harry were ever to show his face in there, the goblins would have no choice but handing him over to the Ministry. Doing anything else would seriously implicate them.”

“Well, yeah, there is that. How else can he get in, though? What about the Confundo spell, for instance?” Ginny suggested thinking aloud.

“Either that or the Imperius Curse could work, but how effectively can one of you do this? It’s not the easiest magic.”

“I’m pretty sure that either Harry or Hermione can cast either of those spells pretty easily. They’re both really good at this sort of thing.”

Bill sighed. “Ginny this isn’t Hogwarts. There is more at stake here than failing an exam. I know that Hermione is very talented and that Harry’s best subject is DADA but still…”

Ginny now butted in, “I know you’re just concerned but, please try to think of something because Harry is determined to get the wand before the Ministry does. You know about his vision, don’t you?” she said, thinking of Percy but without wanting to mention him directly.

“Yes, Ginny, don’t we all! Now, okay, assuming that Harry manages to get in safely, there is another problem. Only Garbhan can open his own vault, by the touch of his own hand.”

Ginny now felt totally dejected. “Ok, can we not put the Imperius curse on him too?”

“People often forget that goblins are very powerful magical beings, in many respects, more so than wizards, and Garbhan hasn’t got to such high position for no reason. I’m certain that he’d overpower Harry by a long shot. Also, it is possible that he may chose to turn a blind eye to the whole wand business, but only if he wishes to. Antagonising goblins by casting Unforgivables on them cannot bring about happy endings. They would seek revenge. If Harry who, to many, embodies our cause were to make an enemy of them, they would never side up with us. This would probably turn them the opposite way. The consequences could be disastrous,” Bill explained.

“So, in short, nothing other than his personal collaboration can do the trick?” summarised Ginny, sounding crestfallen.

“Well, I think I may know one of his little secrets. The Ministry only allows humans to carry wands, however, it was always his ambition to own one too. There is a rumour, which I believe well founded, about Garbhan having commissioned one from Ollivander years ago. It’s quite possible that this wand can open his vault. Now, where does he keep it and how difficult this is to steal is another question.”

“Umm…” Ginny assented deep in thought. “How about one of us gets a job as a cleaner there and takes a proper look?”

“Under Polyjuice, maybe. As you can well imagine, there is no way that the bank is going to give a friend of Harry Potter’s a cleaning job in there. They are not that stupid. Everyone knows that he’s after the wand.”

“Okay, supposing that we manage to find a way around these obstacles. Where is this vault and how can it be reached?” asked Ginny pressing on.

“First of all, don’t even dream of using the carts. The security is far too high.”

“But if he doesn’t use the carts, how else can he get there? Please, Bill, there has to be some way,” Ginny asked, almost pleading.

“Well, alright,” Bill conceded. “Maybe there is another way, but no one’s ever tested it, as far as I know. It’s purely based on theory and supposition.”

“Bill, com’on, please. What is this other way?”

“If I’m correct in thinking that the tunnels at Gringotts are based on the Great Pyramid, there should be ascending and descending shafts with Garbhan’s vault at its deepest point. The structure was carved on rock in the shape of an inverted pyramid but, unless I’m much mistaken, to reach it he will have to follow instructions written on the stone in hieroglyphics.”

“And how the hell, Bill, is Harry going to learn hieroglyphics overnight?” Ginny protested. “Could you decipher them, if we could get you back in there somehow?”

“First of all, it takes years and years to become an expert on these. I’m certainly not one. Also, I’m no longer an employee of the bank. I’d face the same problems entering as Harry. If I went in as a customer and one of Umbridge’s people was around, I would surely get arrested. I can try and teach him the basics but it won’t be an easy job or something that he can learn quickly. Now, he speaks Parseltongue, does he not?

“Well, yes,” answered Ginny unsure as to where this was heading.

“I believe there is a live cobra at the entrance of one of the descending shafts. It represents the Ancient Egyptian goddess Meretseger, which was supposed to protect the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings. Harry may be able to persuade the snake to let him in by somehow proving that he is only seeking something that belongs to him. However, he must be careful not to get bitten, as its poison it's lethal without the antidote. This type of snake seldom bites if not in danger or unprovoked but I don’t know exactly how this one in particular has been trained. Of course, he’s also going to have to deal with the dragons, if he ever gets that far, but of course Charlie is the expert on this, not me.”

“Okay, one last question and I’ll let you go,” said Ginny. “Do Muggle artefacts work at Gringotts? I mean, they don’t at Hogwarts.”

“Muggle artefacts?” Bill enquired blinking in surprise.

“It’s a bit of a long story, Bill. All I need to know is if something like a mobile phone would work inside the bank.”

“Well, I’ve certainly never heard anything for or against. I guess one of you could try this beforehand and see what happens.”

“Thanks so much for all this. I’ve arranged to meet up with Harry in a little while, so I’ll let you be on your way to Headquarters,” concluded Ginny feeling truly grateful.

“You mean here, in Diagon Alley, on his own? He’s got even less sense that I thought!”

“Ok,” Ginny told him smiling, “he’s taken Polyjuice and is looking like Mum.”

Bill now couldn’t contain a grin. “This boy is completely crackers. Trust you to be dating him! What a pair!” he said shaking his head.

Before they parted, Bill scribbled something like a map on a piece of parchment and concluded, “tell him that he may be able to use a broom to ascend and descend the shafts but he will only have about half an hour before the vapours in the secret passages suffocate him. If he encounters anything unexpected and he’s delayed, he will die. Please, please make sure that he bears that in mind.”

Harry found the Room of Requirement looking exactly like it had done when he went in there in a panic, a few months prior, to hide the book he was now seeking. The ceiling did also look like that of a large cathedral, with tall and elegant windows beneath which was a city completely made of objects that Hogwarts’ students and staff had been placing there for probably hundreds of years.

He found this familiarity comforting and proceeded swiftly to recover his past Potions aid. That ought to be easy. He remembered exactly where he had left this item; inside a cabinet on top of which he had placed the bust of an ugly warlock that he had covered with a wig and a tattered tiara. He turned left and recognised the cupboard at once. With a slight trepidation he opened its doors and picked up the volume. He was still unconvinced in terms of Snape’s loyalties and this made him eye the book with a certain disgust, memories of how Dumbledore had been murdered flowing fast to his brain.

He decided to be gone from the room as quickly as possible, saving his allocated time there for taking a short walk through the castle, as his nostalgic feelings were too hard to appease. However, the door just wouldn’t open no matter what magical or non-magical means he engaged. The obvious thing to do, Harry thought, was to get himself into the twin Vanishing Cabinet to get back to Borges & Burkes. To his shock, this didn’t work either. It was possible that he had not imagined the footsteps in the shop and that someone had actually heard noise coming from the basement, had become suspicious and had done something to the Cabinet to put an end to the connection between the two.

He didn’t have a clue as to how or why any of this had happened but the worrying fact was that he was trapped.

Ginny had gone back to the Leaky Cauldron to wait for Harry, as arranged. As a barmaid poured her a glass of pumpkin juice, she felt an overwhelming need to touch the bracelet that Harry had bought her as a birthday present. The instant she held it with her right hand, her heart did a somersault; Harry was in trouble.

He had told her quite clearly that if something did happen she must contact Malfoy, but how? She didn’t even have an owl with her. Granted she could always fly back to Grimmauld Place and do that from there but, then again, Harry could be in serious danger. She just couldn’t waste time. She knew the Slytherin boy had gone into Muggle London with Harry earlier that day and suspected that whatever they were up to it had something to do with Narcissa’s ghost but she didn’t have the faintest idea as to where about in London he might actually be. Thinking on her feet, she asked the pub landlord’s very politely if she could use his own owl.

Tom was a bit puzzled by her request and asked in turn: “Is everything alright?”

“Yes, sure,” she answered with a feigned smile, “I just need to owl my mother. Merlin knows where she’s got to!” she added trying to sound casual.

She wasn’t entirely sure that trusting Malfoy with this was actually a good idea; yet Harry had been adamant, so she decided to follow his instructions and wrote on a piece of parchment:


Harry told me to get in touch with you if something did go wrong. I have a connection with him and I’m sure that he is stuck in the Room of Requirement. He said that you knew why he went there and may be able to help. Please, do not let him down.


Chapter 29: Ways and Means
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Sybill Trelawney adjusted her large spectacles and blinked. She thought for a moment that she recognised someone familiar, although she couldn’t put her finger on who this person was. Dismissing this unexpected presence, she continued to kneel down by a great mountain of long forgotten objects. However, a few seconds later, a loud bang startled her.

Harry hadn’t noticed her at all when, after trying out several spells unsuccessfully, he had kicked the entrance door of the room with all his might.

“Who is there?” a misty and almost phantasmal voice commanded.

“Professor?” Harry called out slightly alarmed, walking briskly towards her but trying to avoid knocking anything down. So, that must have been it; he must have entered the Room of Requirement when his former Divination teacher was already in there. Maybe that explained why the door didn’t open. Perhaps, if he could get her to want to come out, everything would be alright.

“I know you from somewhere, do I not?” Sybill Trelawney muttered in a tone that could be interpreted as either dreamy or slurry.

“Professor, it’s me, Harry. Look, you got to help me get out of here!” he told her impatiently.

She walked towards the figure that now resembled Mrs. Weasley rather slowly, as if afraid of her balance not being what it should. She leaned forward, getting very close to the other woman’s face, thus giving the impression that she had serious trouble with her sight.

Harry felt slightly uncomfortable with such close proximity and took a couple of steps backwards without thinking. “Sorry, Professor, I know I look like Mrs. Weasley,” he started in an anxious tone of voice, “but I’m Harry, Harry Potter. I’ve taken Polyjuice. It’s a long story.”

Sybill didn’t seem to take in her former pupil’s comment and eyed the red-haired witch from top to bottom, squinting in a way that indicated that she didn’t trust either her inner eye or her outer ones.

“I can help you look for your bottles,” he volunteered second-guessing Trelawney’s intentions, eager for her get to find what she wanted so that they could both get out. He knew that she had been known to hide sherry in that room and, as she now appeared to be looking for something, he deduced that her aim must have been retrieving it.

“Bottles? What bottles? How dare you think that I!” she protested blushing.

“Professor, it’s just me, Harry. I won’t tell anyone,” he said, trying to reassure her.

“Well, I must say,” she stated, steering the conversation in a different direction, “you have changed a great deal over the summer. Didn’t you use to have dark hair?”

“Yes, Professor, and I happen to normally look like a boy!” he replied chuckling.

“But of course, my dear, all this tragedies were bound to put some years on you. We missed you in Divination, you know,” she continued, “you, of all of people should pay attention to my subject, I have always said that. It was I, after all, who foretold the Headmaster’s sudden death. The Lighting Struck Tower, I could see it so vividly…” she commented, looking as if about to go into a trance, although Harry thought that a most likely explanation was that she had drank quite a bit of sherry already.

Harry was not in the mood for her ramblings, nor for being reminded about Dumbledore’s death. Furthermore, he was dying to take a peak at the book to see whether the instructions for the Wolfsbane potion were indeed there, but was wary of doing so in her presence. The sooner they found the bottles, the sooner he could be out!

“Professor, over here!” Harry called excitedly after searching everywhere for some ten minutes. “Look!”

Sybill blushed again. She wasn’t particularly keen on sharing her very ill-kept secret with one of the students, but grabbed the bottles avidly all the same.

Harry sighed. He almost asked her if she needed to get anything else, but fearing further delays, he thought better of it. “Ok, that’s it then, Professor, shall we try the door now?”

“My dear, let’s talk first. It’s kind of you to pop back to see me. After all, you must be in great need of consulting a Seer.”

“Thanks, Professor, but not now. I, umm… I just need to get going, really. Another time perhaps,” he added, trying to be polite.

“You’re always in such hurry, but you cannot make your destiny come to you any sooner that it’s meant to,” she told him with a vacant expression, “and it is for a reason that I did find you here…” she added, looking as she was racking her brains for the said reason.

“Professor Trelawney, I thought you wanted to go and sample this sherry,” Harry said hoping to put an end to her procrastinations.

“Would you join me, Harry?” she invited, throwing one of her many beaded shawls casually over her shoulder.

“Ok, then, but just one tiny glass,” he conceded, realising that once they were out of that room, it would be much easier for him to excuse himself and be on his way.

Sybill then motioned towards the door. She tried to push it forward but, again, nothing happened. They both tried various spells, to absolute no avail.

The Divination teacher started to mutter between breaths that the horse, as she called Firenze the centaur, was to blame.

Harry’s heart was beating very fast. He wondered… Was it really a coincidence that the person who had made the prophecy and he: one of its two subjects, were stuck in that supposedly secret room without a hope in hell of getting out? Had someone trapped them? Was this Voldemort’s doing? And, if so, how had he found out that he was there? But of course, Draco! Who else? He had trusted Malfoy, protected him even. He had been as naïve as his parents, in fact, more so! Why did he not think that he would seek to redeem himself in Voldemort’s eyes by handing over the person he most wanted to capture: himself.

A little while prior, a tawny coloured owl had landed on the wooden garden table Malfoy and Father McKenna were sitting at. As these birds weren’t known in the Muggle world for flying in bright day light, it attracted a great deal of attention from many of the pub’s patrons, and attention was the last thing Draco wanted or needed.

The teenager didn’t recognise this particular specimen and wondered who on Earth had sent him a message. Given that he had no contact at all with what he once knew as his world except for the Order and Snape, and that he hadn’t heard from the latter since his mother’s funeral, he thought this was strange. A sudden sense of dread took over him. Was it possible for the Death Eaters to find him by sending him an owl? Was the bird able to give away his whereabouts?

Father McKenna observed the owl with curiosity but simply waited to see what Draco would do next. With a certain degree of trepidation, Malfoy took the message attached to its leg and read it in silence. “Harry seems to be in trouble, Father,” he announced as he finished reading.

The priest gave him a concerned look but waited for the boy to further explain.

What was he supposed to do now? Also, why had Potter told his girlfriend to contact him, of all people? Why could he not seek help from his friends in the Order? Unless of course, he didn’t want them to know what he was up to. How he’d got trapped in the Room of Requirement was another mystery. In fact, if this was really the case, it meant that both the exit of the room and the Vanishing Cabinet were blocked. He could sneak into Borges & Burke’s under the Cloak and try to ascertain what the situation was, but doing this would put him at risk. Also valuable time could be wasted that way. He needed to get help, but from whom?

He reflected for a moment. He just remembered that Hermione Granger’s mobile number was stored on the phone that Harry had lent him. In a way, it should be up to Potter’s friends to get him out of that mess; a mess which incidentally had nothing to do with him. Yet again, Harry and his side were protecting him. His days as a Death Eater were over. The Order was his only hope in these troubled times and the Order didn’t trust him. Perhaps this was an opportunity to prove himself to them. But what could he really do?

Before the end of last term, he would have rather died than ask the Mudblood for assistance, but it wasn’t as if he was asking for help for himself. Doing this on Potter’s behalf seemed to him a little less demeaning than doing so on his own account.

Father Sean realised that Draco was wearing a deep-in-thought expression and asked: “Where did Harry go? What’s the problem?”

“Well, he’s got back to our school. He said he needed to retrieve something from there. The school has been closed since the Headmaster died and it seems that he cannot get out, that he’s trapped.”

“Is that message from him?” the priest enquired scowling.

“It’s from Ginny, his girlfriend. For what she says, they have some kind of telepathic connection.”

The concept of telepathy sounded less alien to McKenna than, for instance, the existence of goblins. Even some people in his world believed that was possible. Oddly enough, the priest appeared less surprised by Harry’s ability to communicate in that way than Draco himself, who never ceased to be bemused by Potter’s special talents.

“Well, can you help him?” Father Sean asked anxiously.

“I don’t know. Something strange seems to have happened and I’ve no idea how. Harry takes too many risks considering that the Dark Lord is out for his blood. He has this saviour complex and then it’s the rest of the world who have to get him out of tight corners all the time,” he complained.

McKenna pursed his lips and said almost authoritatively: “Surely, you don’t want anything to happen to him?”

“No, of course, not,” Draco replied almost affronted, “but I haven’t the faintest idea about how to get him out. I can only communicate in two ways, with the owl and with the phone. Once I send the bird back, that’s it; I can’t send it out again. I could contact an old teacher of mine with it. He may know something I don’t, but then Ginny, Harry’s girlfriend, won’t know that I’m trying to help; she may panic and do something stupid. Now, I have one of Harry’s friends’ number on his mobile. She may be able to at least contact Ginny to tell her that I’m trying to sort this out. I think I’ll just do that,” he concluded.

Draco pulled the phone out of his pocket and looked at it still a little mesmerised.

“Harry’s friend’s number is likely to be saved in his phonebook. Can I take a look?” the priest offered, realising that the boy seemed to be struggling with the buttons.

Malfoy let him have the phone but looked over his shoulder, curious to see what other contacts Harry had stored.

“Has he not added his girlfriend’s number?” McKenna wondered aloud with a tinge of surprise.

“People in our world don’t use telephones. Hermione Granger has one because she’s a Muggle-born and Harry, well, his aunt and uncle are Muggles, you see. It was Granger I was thinking of contacting, in fact.”

The phone started to ring in the Grangers’ living room. Hermione picked it up at once.

“Hi Harry,” she answered, noting the caller’s name on the screen.

Malfoy went quiet for a split second, “Granger, it’s me Draco.”

“Draco?” she repeated, surprised.

“I… I just got an owl from Ginny Weasley. She reckons that Potter is stuck in the Room of Requirement,” he said, as he started relating to her what he knew.

Hermione now sat on the sofa and listened attentively. Of course, Harry was convinced that the Wolfsbane potion was written in the Half-Blood-Prince book and had been for some time intent on retrieving it. Now, how did Ginny know that he was trapped? Of course, she realised, because of the bracelet that had been enchanted at her own suggestion.

She thought that some members of the Order might have known a way out. Remus probably, since he had been a Marauder, but she was aware that Harry wouldn’t want him to know that he had gone to so much trouble to help him. Moody perhaps, but then again, he could be a little over the top. A full-blown Order operation would be difficult to keep secret and secrecy was important, given the state of their world and the Ministry’s allegiances.

“Ok, what do you propose we do?” she finally asked.

“I was going to ask you the same question,” Draco replied a little arrogantly. “After all, you are the one who always got top marks on everything.”

“Look, I don’t think this is the time to be impertinent. Something has just come to my mind though, but I need you to be absolutely truthful with me, Malfoy,” she told him imperatively.

“Truthful about what?”

“Ok, I know that you were being protected by Professor Snape before you came to us. What side do you honestly reckon he is on?”

“Snape?” that question, coming from Hermione, startled Draco; yet contacting him had been in fact his first thought. “Well, my impression is that whatever game he was playing, his loyalties are now with your side. I saw him just after the Dark Lord killed my mother and that’s definitely my gut feeling,” he told her wishing to make the message clear but not wanting to go into too many details.

“Yes, I thought that too from how he acted when Harry’s aunt was kidnapped. Yet, he killed Dumbledore, you were there!”

“I believe he had no choice. He made the Unbreakable Vow to my mother to protect me, to finish the task for me if needed be,” he confessed. It felt really weird to him to speak of such personal matters with someone he had loathed from day one but, at the end of the day, he now needed these people and he had to collaborate.

“Well, if you hadn’t disarmed Dumbledore, he might have been able to defend himself,” Hermione noted sourly, “but anyway, it’s too late for that now.”

“I never thought about it at the time, but it is possible that Dumbledore might have been dying anyway. I’m pretty sure that he could have stopped either of us by wandless magic if he so had wished.”

“I really would like to talk more about it with you but, look, we haven’t the time now,” she replied with urgency. “Do you still have the owl, I mean the physical bird from Ginny?”

“Yes,” he answered succinctly. “Ok, you owl Ginny to tell her that we are acting on this and I owl Snape to see what he suggests. But, whatever you do, don’t tell the Weasleys  that we are trying to enlist his help, or else, they will freak out. I’ll keep you informed.”

With that agreed, their conversation ended.

Now, this was the second time that day that Father Sean had heard the name Snape mentioned, and in the context of a murder no less. Could this person be the man he knew from his Parish? But what really worried him was that, for what he had heard Draco saying, he was seriously considering contacting him.

His expression became rather sombre. “Draco, you’re not thinking of getting involved again with that gang you told me about, surely?”

“I see you’ve been listening,” he snapped, before he could actually see that antagonising one of the few people who were now on his side was not a good idea. “Well, I don’t believe this guy is with that gang anymore. He used to be a spy, by all accounts, but I think he’s seen enough to know whom to help. Besides, he is a very skilled wizard. I’d say he’s worth a try.”

McKenna frowned and prayed that it would all work out safely for all concerned but continued to question the teenager about this Snape character. Draco was by now really restless and kept on tapping his fingers on the table, but he did give the priest his sincere opinion nonetheless.

Severus Snape was trying to relax in his rented London Muggle apartment. The place was small but just about adequate. It was all he could afford given that he was living, for the most part, off the savings he had made whilst working at Hogwarts. He had prudently placed some money in a Muggle account, as he had always known that he was likely to have to seek refuge outside the wizarding world sooner or later.

It was easy enough for him to pass as a Muggle since his own father had not been a wizard. Now, he wanted to know more about that world, especially about what he called Muggle magic. To this end, he had joined a local church, the Catholic one where he had once placed Draco. He had got to know the priest in charge a little. He seemed like a decent person, a little rough perhaps, and no academic theologian, but decent nonetheless.

When they had first met and was casually asked what his occupation was, he had replied that he had been a teacher in Scotland, but that he had wished to move back to England.

He had, however, decided that it was probably a good idea for him to find some kind of employment, partly so that his lifestyle appeared to be a completely normal one. Becoming a Muggle teacher wasn’t really an option since their curriculum was too far removed from anything covered by the Hogwarts’ syllabus. Then one day, he got past a second-hand bookstore in Tottenham Court Road that had a sign on the window advertising for staff. The place appeared relatively quiet and he figured out that he would have ample opportunity to read, to find out more about various topics.

One problem was, however, that he often felt attracted to works that did everything but lift his spirits. One day, for instance, he came across Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. He was certainly not into what he considered sappy literature but the theme of this book intrigued him: love from beyond the grave. It made him think of Lily, of Cissa…. once more. Why could he just not be dead … with them? But then he understood that he still had a part to play, somehow.

He had never had a desire for a television. His pleasures consisted of relatively good wine, a book and the odd vinyl record. On this occasion he was reading Catullus in the vernacular, savouring every word, almost salivating at the sheer despair in the young Roman poet. The author’s muse, Lesbia, was said to have been inspired by a patrician woman, Clodia, who had given him her favours and then broken their affair.

Unfortunately, he himself had never even got as far as being lovers with the subjects of his affections.

He went up and played yet another record: The Damnation of Faustus by Berlioz seemed like a good one.

Then, out of the blue, he heard a rapping noise coming from one of the bay windows. He dropped the book he was reading and placed it with vexation on the small coffee table next to him. He raised his dark eyebrows and let his sharp eyes undertake the investigative work.

An owl, he muttered in surprise, frowning. He got up from the sofa and took out his wand.

“Exhibeo Scriptorem!” he pronounced in a clear but unemotional voice, holding the message attached to the bird’s leg. No amount of precaution was excessive given his current circumstances.

The name Draco Malfoy formed on the yet unopened parchment. He sighed. What kind of trouble had the idiotic boy got himself into this time? he wondered.

From what he could gather, the situation, albeit somewhat ironic, even comical, had the potential of becoming problematic. Merlin only knew that he had had enough trouble in the past trying to keep both these boys, separately, from harm. So, they were now co-operating! He could not truly think of a worse possible combination: Malfoy’s ineptitude and Potter’s delusions of invincibility.

He smiled as he read on, the Room of Requirement indeed. He had known it would not be long before Potter returned there.

Having given some water to the owl, he put quill to parchment and wrote:

"The answer is simple. I’m astonished that neither yourself, nor the girl you have spoken with, had worked this out for yourselves. You will need to get a house-elf for him to side-Apparate with. That should suffice. It seems that the arrangements that were made for you are working out. I am glad. Try to involve as few people as possible; no-one needs the publicity."

He was careful not to mention any names and to leave the missive unsigned. The owl was now back on its way to the Charring Cross public house.

In view of the fact that it looked as if they may be there for a while, Professor Trelawney had found an old silver goblet and had started on the sherry. Harry had joined her for a small shot out of politeness but had refused any more drinks, as he understood the importance of remaining compos mentis. In a way, he was half hoping that the sherry made her a bit lethargic, so that he could take a good look at the book without her noticing. Instead, she carried on whining about Firenze and the unfairness of it all, putting Harry’s sanity to the test.

He could not stop thinking about who might have sealed the room and why? He now sat on the floor cross-legged, with the Potions book in his lap and his back against the wall, at a loss as to what to do next. At least he had remembered to put into Molly’s robes’ pocket the enchanted cufflinks that he had purchased at the time of Ginny’s birthday. Hoping for some source of comfort, he held these in his right hand. They felt positive and warm. Ginny must have been thinking about him too. The connection between their respective pieces of jewellery didn’t enable them to transmit complete messages, but did allow them to feel each other's emotions. He sensed that she was now more relaxed than when he had earlier reached out to her. This could only mean that something was being done.

His spirits became a little more uplifted. Perhaps he had been wrong about Malfoy; maybe he had not betrayed him after all. Harry conceded that his theory about someone having become suspect at Borges & Burkes was in fact rather likely. Still, this did not account for the door of the actual room refusing to open. Unless the staff at the Knockturn Alley shop had a contact at Hogwarts, it was unlikely that these two facts were connected. In any case, it would have taken longer for an owl to get to the castle than for him to get out of the cabinet, pick up the book and try the door. Maybe it was one of Peeves’ pranks or even something that Filch had done to get one up on the house-elves or even on Sybill.

Harry decided that there was little point in speculating and started looking for annotations in the book.

Meanwhile, several things were happening at once.

Draco had received the owl back from Snape and was internally debating which elf to use. There were several at Malfoy Manor that would surely do his bidding. However, his family home was to be the very last resort, since it was distinctively possible that Voldemort had placed a trap there. A second possibility was Dobby, the elf that had belonged to his family for years and whom, ironically, Potter had freed from under his father’s nose. There was also Kreacher, of course. Maybe the Weasley girl or one of Harry’s friends could get him to obey, since Harry was now its master.

He rang Granger’s number once more.

“Malfoy, is that you again?” Hermione answered anxiously.

“I’ve now had an owl back. We need to get a house-elf to Apparate in and out with Potter,” he told her, scarcely pausing for breath.

“A house-elf,” she muttered to herself. A house-elf indeed! How could neither of them have thought about it before? Had she become stupid all of a sudden! She could now kick herself for all the time they’d wasted but was too embarrassed to let Malfoy know this and changed the subject.

“Draco, all these owls… I mean, you are in Muggle London, I take it? I hope you are not in a public place,” she said sounding as if she was about to tell him off.

“Well, yes,” he told her raising an eyebrow, beginning to tire of the girl’s unnecessary digressions, “Anyway, never mind that now. Where is Ginny? Can she get that Kreacher creature to go and get him?”

Hermione nearly reprimanded him from calling Kreacher that creature but that was certainly not the right moment for it. “Ginny… umm… I told her to stay put, that you were trying to do something but she wanted to know more and seemed of the mind of getting herself to Hogsmeade.” Hermione stopped talking for a second, “Now, Kreacher? Bear with me.”

She could hear him sighing at the other end of the phone. “Don’t hang up, Draco, alright?  I’m thinking!” she told him irritated. “Okay, we may as well try it,” she conceded. “Now, you better come with me to Grimmauld Place as well. You may actually have more luck with him than me or the Weasleys. He is rather fond of pure bloods and you are a Black after all,” she reasoned.

Malfoy’s reply sounded to her a bit discomfited but at least he agreed.

Draco said his good-byes to McKenna, explaining that he had to go and help but promised him to give him a ring as soon as Harry was back safely.

Ginny had sensed at one point Harry’s doubts about the wisdom of engaging Malfoy’s help and had decided that the time had come for her to take action. Thus, she got herself back to Headquarters as quickly as she could. She had to ensure that the inhabitants of Headquarters and, her mother in particular, knew that she was back, before she sneaked out again mounting her new broomstick. She had enchanted it with a particularly advanced charm designed to make it fast beyond belief. This charm, of course, was forbidden in Quidditch but she had found it a while back written in one of the twins’ old school books.

Despite this, but the time she spotted the village of Hogsmeade on the horizon, it was twilight. She had been flying for the best part of two hours and was now positively exhausted. She hadn’t known at first, exactly, what was making her go there. All she had felt was the need to get nearer to Harry. She hadn’t been able to catch up with Ron before the Order was assembled, so she had had to operate alone.

By the time she had taken off high above the clouds, the solution had come to her. Of course, house-elves were able to Apparate in an out of Hogwarts and they all seem to be familiar with the Room of Requirement. Dobby, surely, would be able to help but now, the difficulty would be getting into the castle. Her plan for the moment was to stop at The Three Broomsticks in the hope of finding Hagrid there. He was a teacher and he should be able to let her in.

Ginny had heard that Madam Rosmerta had left the country. She had been placed under the Imperius Curse during the previous academic year and, apparently, the Ministry, prior to Dolores’ appointment, had made provision for her to go into hiding and try to recover from her experience. Her replacement was a stocky blond man in his late thirties who turned out to be Hannah Abbott’s father. Ginny was slightly surprised by the fact that he had taken up such a public job since, she recalled, his wife – who had been a Muggle-born – had been killed by Death Eaters not so long ago.

Mr Abbott introduced himself asking her to call him Alan.

“You’re one of Arthur’s kids, aren’t you?” he asked casually.

Ginny nodded. His expression indicated that he was somewhat surprised to see her there, so far away from home, late in the day and on her own but decided not to ask why. He had heard rumours of her relationship with Harry Potter and he guessed that he probably had something to do with it. He tried to put her at ease by saying that he supported their cause and that that was the very reason why he had taken up the job.

“You get to hear quite a few conversations as a pub landlord,” he explained. “I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing, after what the bastards did to my wife!”

“We were very sorry to hear, Mr…, umm… Alan, and are very grateful for your efforts,” Ginny replied sympathetically.

He appeared approachable enough and Ginny asked him if he had seen Hagrid or any of the other teachers that day at all. Mr Abbott related that Hagrid was there most evenings but that he hadn’t seen him at all that day and added that, perhaps, he was doing some work in the Forbidden Forest. None of the few other remaining Hogwart’s staff had visited the tavern either. All she could do for the moment was wait there in the hope that Hagrid would show up. The prospect of combing the Forest for him almost in the dark was too much of a daunting one and something she would only do if there were no other option.

Hermione and Malfoy met, at Hermione’s instigation, just outside of Charring Cross tube station and entered a deserted alleyway in order to Apparate back to Grimmauld Place.

All the Order members were still in the meeting and nobody noticed their return. Both teenagers tried to find Ginny, but she appeared to have left. Hermione started to get worried but she knew that, before they could even attempt to get themselves to Hogsmeade looking for her, they had to speak to Kreacher.

The found him, as they expected, curled up in his cupboard clutching in his hands old memorabilia and muttering aloud. Hermione spoke to him first, in a really soft voice.

“The Mudb…” he protested, unable to finish the word as Harry had expressly forbidden him from uttering such insults, “the filthy… is not Kreacher’s master. Go away!” the elf protested looking as if spitting venom.

Draco now intervened. “Kreacher, “ he said in a commanding manner, “I am a true descendent and rightful heir of your Mistress Walburga. I’m Narcissa Black’s son. Would you do as I tell you?”

Malfoy and Hermione looked at each other expectantly. The house-elf started vowing at Draco ceremoniously in recognition of his blood credentials but, almost with tears in his eyes, told them that his now master had forbidden him from speaking to Draco.

“Potter is just a bloody genius, isn’t he? Malfoy yelled whilst kicking with his right foot the door of Kreacher’s cupboard.

Hermione took her gaze down. Yes, it would appear that Harry’s precautions were now backfiring.

Draco now looked incensed but determined. “Alright, I guess I’ll have to go to the Manor. There are several elves there that will obey my commands.”

Hermione frowned extremely concerned. “No, you can’t do that. You don’t know who controls the place now. After all, your father is in… well… and Voldemort is after you. Listen to reason!” she tried to plead with him. She was in awe, however, to see that this stuck-up Slytherin boy who had hated Harry throughout his school days was now prepared to risk his own safety to help him. “In that case I’ll come with you,” she added with great intent. “You can’t go on your own. There could very well be traps.”

“Granger, do you want me to help Potter or do you not?” he challenged, “and please don’t be so stupid. You’re a Muggle-born. If the Death Eaters are controlling the Manor, you won’t stand a chance.”

She was about to argue that neither would he but he pointed out that he had lived there all his life, he knew the mansion well and, if there were any servants left, they were likely to be loyal to him.

Hermione’s respect for him was now positively growing. She gave him an encouraging smile and warned him to be careful.

Harry, now back to his normal self, was pacing up and down the Room of Requirement trying to really ignore Trelawney’s rants. He didn’t seem able to think particularly straight so, in a feeble attempt to make himself relax, he tried find a hiding place where he could really read the book properly. So far he had found no mention to the Wolfsbane potion. However, whilst shuffling through the pages, he found something written in what he immediately recognised as Snape’s handwriting. He was absolutely certain that that inscription had not been there before. He had looked at the book enough times in his last year at Hogwarts. It read: “Two are dealt with, one the seeker was after, three had been replaced. The Seeker holds  the key to the error, in a clue from a long time ago, an error which may lead to success. In the far right corner, some answers might be found."

Harry look at this cryptic message in absolute astonishment. This had been written by Snape, or in Snape’s writing after he had abandoned the book there a few months back. Someone knew that he would go back for the book. Someone knew him well enough to know that he would return. Now, the far right corner?  Did it refer to the book or to the room?

He peaked behind his shoulder to ensure that the Divination teacher wasn’t following him. He got to the very end. All he could find there was an old, tattered bookcase. If he was meant to go through every book for clues, that was going to be no small task! Then, he realised, there was something behind it: an old mirror. He moved the bookcase forward and stood in front of it. This object, unlike the Mirror or Erised only gave him his true reflection. Why had an ordinary mirror been hidden in there, though? Instinctively, he tapped it with his wand, and there he was, once again, in front of the Mirror of Erised. Its appearance had obviously been concealed.

He looked into it with all his might, trying as hard as he could to drive thoughts of his parents and various other love ones away, including those of Ginny. He had to concentrate on the Horcruxes. That was his task, his mission.

He saw himself clearly holding an ancient quill whose end clearly bore the colours of Ravenclaw, gold and azure.

Chapter 30: In the Mousetrap
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Draco now had to think on his feet. It was almost a certainty that the Dark Lord, or even the Ministry, would have expected him to return to Malfoy Manor at some point. Although only Snape and the Order knew for sure that he had defected from the Death Eaters, the fact that he had been in hiding left little room for doubt. Also, despite his previous thoughts, he admitted to himself that he was taking a gamble by assuming that his family’s servants remained loyal to him. Had the house-elves belonged to him personally, matters would have been simpler. For one thing, he would have been able to summon them himself from where he was; yet, most of them were his father’s. Also, he was completely unaware as to whether his mother’s will had been dealt with or not; thus he couldn’t really tell if he had inherited the few she had owned.

His main advantage was that he knew the mansion and all its secret passages better than anyone who might have set up a trap. Moreover, he still had in his possession Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. Yet, Apparating straight to either the grounds or to one of the main rooms didn’t seem a good idea. If someone was guarding them, they would be able to hear the characteristic popping noise. He decided to make the quarters hidden under the trapdoor in the main drawing room his initial destination. This was, incidentally, the place where his father used to conceal artefacts forbidden by the Ministry.

In a way, he preferred it this way. He was only too aware of the impact that seeing the grandeur of his ancestral home was likely have on him. He certainly didn’t need any further reminders of what he had left behind, of what perhaps would never be his again.

Not so long before, he would have laughed at the thought of putting himself at risk to help Potter; yet, as he had reasoned earlier, they now needed each other. His motives were further fuelled by a desire for revenge. The Dark Lord had killed the most innocent person in his family, someone who had stood by her husband but hadn’t taken part; someone who had acted only to protect her own son. That was enough for him. If Potter was the one destined to bring down the Dark Lord, so be it. He was no longer prepared to stand in his way. 

Ginny was sitting tight at The Three Broomsticks, inwardly debating what to do for the best. As things stood, she had no means of getting into Hogwarts. Hagrid might very well have gone to The Hogshead instead, she thought, until she realised that he too was an Order member and was also bound to be at Grimmauld Place. She could try to walk to the school grounds and wait outside his cabin for his return or remain at the pub a while longer.

Just before she had taken off on her broom, a message from Hermione had arrived explaining that she had spoken with Malfoy, who was apparently dealing with the matter. She still worried about whether Harry had been wise to trust him and was becoming increasingly agitated. She was now desperate for news but decided that there was very little that she could do for the moment. Instinctively, she held her enchanted bracelet. She could sense how Harry was also getting very impatient but, somehow, she knew that his spirits were raised, strange as this seemed.

Then another thought entered her head. She knew that the twins had used, for years, secret passages that connected Hogsmead with the school. Now, where were these entrances? In fact, the idea of paying the Hog's Head a quick visit started to appeal. She had found out at Dumbledore’s funeral that Aberforth was his brother. Whilst she wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of revealing what had happened to a complete stranger who was also a little odd, he might be in a position to help. 

The Order meeting had been a tense one. The main points in the agenda had been Umbridge’s regime and Percy’s possible leanings. By absolute majority, a very puffy-eyed Mrs Weasley had been made to swear under oath that she would inform them forthwith if Percy contacted her.

Bill, on his part, had explained the reason for his resignation from Gringotts, to everyone’s dismay. The rumours concerning concentration camps were now hardly the subject of speculation, especially since Shacklebolt himself believed them to be real. Mad Eye had further aggravated everybody by ranting about how, after all the fuss Potter had made for himself and his friends to be accepted as members, both him and Hermione had failed to attend.

Arthur had voiced openly his lack of desire to continue to serve this new administration but felt that he could be more use by remaining inside. Alastor contributed that the matter was now academic since he was likely to be closely monitored and it was completely improbable that he would be given information of any value at all. To this, Mr Wesley replied that by continuing to work at the Ministry, he could try to keep an eye on his son.

All in all, a full-blown coup appeared their only option. Yet, a plan had to be thoughtfully formulated and that would surely take time. It was agreed that they would brief the absent members and they convened to meet again in a fortnight.

Molly, as usual, had laid out a buffet style dinner for all the attendees. Hagrid, who was normally very fond of Mrs Wesley’s home cooking, tried to make his excuses.

“Why are you in such a hurry, Hagrid?” Molly asked suspiciously.

“Erm…, got ter get back, tha’’s all,” he replied blushing.

“What kind of monster are you breeding this time?” Ron joked.

Hagrid muttered something unintelligible. It became clear both to Ron and his mother that he was purposely avoiding giving a straight answer. Mrs Weasley however could be quite persuasive and she made it clear that she wouldn’t let him leave without having a bite first.

Hermione had still to hear further from either Ginny or Draco. It was getting pretty late and she feared that if they were away for much longer, their absence would be noticed. Before Harry, Draco and herself had left for Muggle London, she had stated that she would spend the night back at her dad’s. Harry, on his part, had managed to secure a property and had decided that he too would stay in Kent, so that they could start dealing with the transaction as quickly as possible. An owl had been sent to Grimmauld Place to that effect. Only Ginny and Malfoy were likely to be missed and it was conceivable that people, for the moment, would think that they were just a little late. In any case, she didn’t think she should hang around in the main living areas for Mrs Weasley to find her and start asking questions. She really didn’t think it was wise to involve the Order in this just yet.

However, she had been waiting already for over half an hour. Unable to relax, she decided to go out to the landing to try to find out if the meeting was over. The fact that she could hear voices coming from the kitchen indicated that it was; whether this was a good sign or a bad one was another matter.

At that point, Ron proceeded up the stairs and onto the girls’ room hoping to find Ginny there. Hermione was just outside the door. She made a silencing gesture with her finger and dragged him into her room.

“Weren’t you supposed to be at your dad’s?” enquired Ron a bit surprised. “And is Ginny not back yet?”

“Ron, something has gone wrong. Listen, Harry seems to be trapped in the Room of Requirement.”

Ron blinked in disbelief. “At Hogwarts? What’s he doing at Hogwarts?”

“Look, we are going to need to act.” Hermione didn’t want to waste time but didn’t know where to begin. “Do you remember how he was intent on retrieving Snape’s potion book, to see if the Wolfsbane potion was annotated there?” she started.

“Yeah, but…” Ron was now shaking his head. “I thought he’d gone to Muggle London to buy a flat.”

“Well that part of the day went fine. After he secured the deal, he met up with Malfoy about some business or other that neither of them would disclose. Later, he was supposed to meet Ginny for a drink in Diagon Alley, but apparently he decided to take a detour via Hogwarts first.”

“So, Malfoy came with you guys in the end? It wasn’t beneath him to go by Muggle car, then?” he mocked.

“Look, we haven’t got time to waste. Is Hagrid still here?” Hermione asked in an urgent hushed voice.

“Yeah, I think so. My mum insisted he ate something. He seemed to be in a hurry, though. What do you want Hagrid for?”

“He’s a Hogwarts teacher, Ron, he has access to the castle. Look, you go and get him. I’ll explain it all to you later. Tell him discreetly to come here upstairs. The Order think I’m in Kent, so you go and get him, please!”

Ron did as he was told despite feeling puzzled. He waited for his mother to be deep in conversation with other members before approaching Hagrid. He managed to silence him by making a gesture alone but the noise that the half-giant’s boots made on the rickety floorboards was hardly easy to disguise. Despite this, no one seemed to notice.

Once in Hermione’s room, she told them at once that Ginny had sensed, via the enchanted bracelet, that Harry was stuck in the Room of Requirement.

Hagrid took his hands to his head and exclaimed, “Oh, it’s all me faul.”

The two teenagers looked at him and at one another extremely disconcerted.

“Hagrid, what do you mean it’s your fault,” Hermione questioned, her eyes wide opened.

“Erm… I ’ad ter close the entrance, yeh see. I never knew tha’ Harry was in there. I just meant ter trap Sybill, that’s all.”

That made less and less sense by the minute. “To trap Sybill Trelawney? Why?” asked Ron looking as if he had been confounded.

“Umm, she’s in danger at Hogwarts. I know she goes in that room ter hide her bottles from time ter time. I’d tried ter get ‘er to leave the school but she won’t ‘ear o’ it,” he continued. “I was just ‘bout to hurry up and ger ‘er out an’ brin’ her ‘ere, yeh see.”

“Why do you think she is in danger, though? And, for crying out loud, Hagrid, how were you going to get her out? You’re not supposed to use magic! And what’s the urgency anyway? Could you not have got her when you got back or before you left?” Hermione’s mind was now working overtime and was asking questions as the speed of her thoughts.

“Well, I got a tip, yeh see. I was told ter do it as soon as possible an' I couldn’t tell when she’d go in there. A’right, a‘right, Hermione; I did a little magic but only inside the castle. The Ministry’ll never know, though,” he said in an apologetic tone. “I thought tha’ if she was there on ‘er own with ‘er bottles, she may have a bit ter drink an’ it’d be easy fer me ter take ‘er away from there.”

Hermione now threw Hagrid a look very worthy of McGonagall and said, “Is there any reason why you haven’t shared this tip of yours with the Order?”

He looked at her rather sheepishly. “Erm, well… the magic I suppose.”

Hermione shook her head and threw a knowing look at him.

“So, Harry and Trelawney are stuck there together?” Ron asked, almost chuckling at the absurdity of it all. “And, where is Malfoy now, then?”

“He’s gone to fetch a house-elf, to Malfoy Manor. Long story. We need to contact him and tell him to come back. He could be in serious danger!” Hermione added in a panicky tone of voice.

“A house-elf? Hermione, what are you on about? He’s willing to risk his neck so that he can have a servant? Ron asked incredulous.

“Well, of course not,” she replied in a slightly irritated tone. “Harry told Ginny to contact him if something went wrong.“

Ron now frowned utterly disconcerted. Why would Harry do that?

“Ron, don’t ask me why, this is all I know. Also, if you remember house-elves can Apparate in and out of places wizards cannot. And now, Hagrid, this tip. What’s that all about?” Hermione was now worrying. After all, Sybill had made the prophecy involving Harry and Voldemort. It all started to sound like too much of a coincidence.

“Erm… I can’t tell yeh that. I promised…”

Oh, well, she though: First things first; we’ll have to quiz him later.

“And where is Ginny?” Ron pressed on.

“She seemed determined to do something. My guess is that she is gone to Hogwarts too.” .

Hermione now thought of something else. Ginny was underage still and had obviously tried to get herself over there somehow. The last thing they needed was for the Ministry to discover this. She had to find Shacklebolt and see if there was anything at all that he could do to cover this up.

“Ok, Hagrid, you better side-Apparate with Ron over to the grounds now. Since it was you who put up the enchantment, surely you will be able to lift it.”

Hagrid nodded but his expression clearly showed lack of confidence, which was hardly reassuring.

“There are things that I have to do here. Also, if Ginny is not outside your hut, you better look for her in Hogsmeade, probably at The Three Broomsticks. Ron, please go and look into Harry’s things for the map. You never know when you may need it,” she concluded.

It was obvious that they were in for a long night. The prospect of her returning to her father’s was now non-existent. I better give him a call, she thought.

In order to do that, she Apparated outside of the building, as mobile phones did not function inside of Grimmauld Place. She searched into her handbag for her phone. Of course, she remembered, she had lent it to Harry, when Malfoy had borrowed his. She would just have to go to the boys’ room and get Hedwig to deliver a message to her father.  However, this mobile business in itself could bring about further complications. She now fervently prayed that Draco hadn’t been captured; amongst other things, he was in possession of Harry’s phone with all its stored information.

As instructed, Ron went and searched through Harry’s belongings. They hadn’t used the Marauders’ Map for some time and he didn’t really have any idea as to where exactly it could be. Suddenly, he had a thought; the Accio charm ought do the trick. Ron was relieved to find that it did work.

“I solemnly declare that I’m up to no good,” he pronounced swiftly. Neither his sister nor Trelawney’s or Harry’s dots appeared. He didn’t expect the Divination teacher’s and Harry’s to be there, since they were supposed to be in the Room of Requirement. On the other hand, the absence of Ginny’s indicated to him that she could well be in Hogsmeade. He then decided that the village should be their first port of call.

Ginny found The Hog's Head completely deserted. Aberforth didn’t appear to be behind the bar either. She couldn’t but notice a rather pungent smells of goats, which almost put her off ordering a drink, in the event that anyone showed up to serve customers. Was the landlord out? she wondered. Yet, the pub door had been opened. She doubted very much that Aberforth could be that far away.

She had this gut feeling that that building was somehow connected with Hogwarts and felt rather tempted to wonder around in search for a possible secret passage but that was a bit too risky, especially since she didn’t have a clue where to begin. Before she had the time to give this a second thought, Mr Dumbledore appeared. At a close distance it was rather striking to see just how much he resembled his late brother.

“What do you want, Miss?” he asked in an abrupt tone.

Ginny glanced almost shyly at his bright blue eyes and said at once, “ You know who I am, don’t you?”

Aberforth blinked. “Yes, Miss, you’re one of the Weasley kids, aren’t you? The one who is dating Harry Potter.”

“You know about that?” she said frowning with surprise.

“Well, one gets to hear gossip if one owns a pub, young lady.”

“You are Albus’ brother, are you not?”

“And what about it?” Aberforth spat out defensively.

“Well, I’m trying to help Harry and I may need your help.” She waited for his reaction not feeling very hopeful. The chap certainly didn't appear particularly co-operative. “Harry knew your brother well, you know,” she tentatively added.

“Ha, my brother! Nice piece of work he was at times!” he retorted as he took a large gulp of what would appear to be firewhiskey. “And what’s this to do with my brother? I knew it was unlikely that you have just come here for a drink,” the landlord said sulkily.

Ginny lowered her eyes for a moment and then replied assertively, “No, Aberforth, I haven’t. I believe Harry is stuck at Hogwarts. I need to get him out!”

“The kid must be following some grand plan of my brother’s, no doubt.”

“Well, yes, yes really.”

Ginny was now feeling really concerned. This guy wasn’t going to help, was he? He appeared far too engrossed in perpetuating some kind of family grievance. Nonetheless, she just couldn’t give up. She looked directly into his blue eyes, which were almost identical to their former Headmaster’s. He returned the penetrating gaze in a way that gave away that he knew she was desperately pleading.

“Alright, alright. There must be something I can do for you, missy but be careful. These are troubled times we’re living in and well, that loverboy of yours, well… we all know the rumours, don’t we, now? he warned her beginning to agree.

“What rumours, Mr Dumbledore?”

“Well about the prophecy and him being the chosen one.”

“Oh, that…” Ginny said not wanting to really disclose much.

“So, is it true then? Does he believe that himself?”

“I couldn’t really say,” Ginny shrugged.

“Look, I know my brother told the kid that, but he wasn’t infallible and Potter, evidently, has got ideas into his young and foolish head and now he is trapped!” Aberforth complained.

“Harry is not a fool!” she stated defensively.

“Anyhow, Miss. Do you want to get into Hogwarts or do you not?” he pressed on.

“Well, of course.”

“Then, I better show you how, don’t I?”

“Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr Dumbledore.” 

“I don’t even know why I’m doing this. Getting myself into trouble for what is surely a lost cause,” he mumbled.

“I said thank you. I mean it, alright?” Ginny replied hoping he wasn’t about to change his mind.

He didn’t reply but proceeded up the narrow stairs, which appeared visible just behind the bar and made a silent motion for the girl to follow him. The carpet had clearly seen better days and the odour there was even more prominent. They arrived at a poorly lit and sparsely furnished sitting room. Ginny then noticed a large painting, the only one in the room. It was that of a young blonde girl who looked sweet and spaced out at the same time.

Aberforth noticed that Ginny was looking at the picture and gave out an almost inaudible chuckle. Immediately after, the girl in the painting disappeared into what looked like some kind of tunnel. Ginny blinked. This was something strange. Normally people in paintings would move to the sides, but inside tunnels?

Aberforth moved forward to the wall where the picture stood hanged. Seconds after, the girl came back into the frame, larger and clearer than she had seemed before. Ginny observed expectantly. The strange girl made a motion for Ginny to follow her.

“Go on, girl,” Aberforth prompted. “What on Merlin’s beard are you waiting for?”

She smiled at the old man, thanking him. A door, which appeared to have come from the paining, flung open and she stepped inside, into the frame itself. As she did this, the former Headmaster’s brother winked.

The tunnel felt extraordinarily real. She could feel the dust of the earthen floor under her shoes. She could, furthermore, see stone stairs in the distance. She walked the path briskly. She very much hoped that this wasn’t some kind of trap. Maybe she should have thought of owling the twins to find out about the entrances to Hogwarts they were familiar with, yet something in her heart was telling her that this would lead to the school. It better did!

It took her about ten minutes but she got there in the end. Another door could be seen. She pushed it without hesitation and sighted with delight. That was definitely the Room of Requirement.

She looked around and, as she did, she saw Harry running towards her with a big grin on his face. She giggled involuntarily at the sight of him, dressed in her mother’s clothes but now back in his own body.



They embraced really tightly and started kissing as if they would never have the opportunity to do so again. He held her body against his own and blushed, as he realised that she had clearly felt just how much he desired her. But that was not the time or the place, he thought. She smiled at him with complicity and tussled his hair as he enthusiastically lifted her off the ground.

“How did you get in here?” he asked looking truly in awe.

“Long story. I found out about an exit I don’t think even my brothers are aware of.”

“You know, you are so damn brilliant!” he exclaimed.

For a minute, she looked around. That room contained so many familiar memories although it looked entirely different to what it had done when they used it for the DA meetings. She then noticed Trelawney, apparently sleeping, with her back against the wall.

Harry followed her gaze. “Oh, she’s completely out of it, drunk as a Lord!”

“What, what’s she doing here though and why are you trapped?”

Harry rolled his eyes and replied, “Good question. Well, I think she was here retrieving some sherry bottles but then something went wrong and we just couldn’t get out.”

“I know,” Ginny assented. “I knew you were trapped.”

“How did you find that out?” Harry enquired.

“I sensed it with the bracelet. Malfoy and Hermione are on the case too, by the way. I found your idea of contacting him very odd, but followed your instructions and got in touch with him.”

“Oh, thanks. Now, do the guys in the Order know?” Harry asked panicking slightly.

“Well, they didn’t when I left Grimmauld Place but that was quite a while back. I bet they do by now,” she said a little sourly.

“Do you think they could be on their way?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I was just wondering whether it would be best to try this exit now or to wait for them to come, so that they don’t arrive here and panic because I’m gone. Also,” he muttered almost to himself, “I think it’s all a little odd. The door is most definitely sealed but no-one has come to attack either of us. Yet, I get this feeling that Sybill should come with us too. Okay, sorry to bombard you, Ginny, but where is this exit and how did you find it? I’m just worried that this could be the actual trap. Someone could have figured out that one of our lot was bound to discover it.”

She related to him exactly what had happened.

“Aberforth Dumbledore…” Harry sighed apparently deep in thought. “Okay, you’re the psychic one,” he said teasing. “Do you reckon we owe to trust him?”

“I’m not sure, Harry. He wasn’t very co-operative at first. He ranted a bit about his brother’s great schemes and whatnot but, I don’t know, he has been in the Order in the past, hasn’t he?

“Shall we risk it, you reckon? I doubt very much that he is in with the Death Eaters. We can Apparate from Hogsmead and, if the Order know, we can put their minds at rest once we are back in London, what do you think?”

“Okay, Harry, let’s go for it then, but what about Trelawney?” Ginny timidly asked.

“We’ll take her with us,” Harry said resolved.

Ginny raised an eyebrow thinking about the state the woman was in. “Harry, how? Shall we use Aguamenti and wake her up?”

Harry smiled and winked at Ginny. Moments later their Divination Professor screamed as she realised that she was soaking wet.

Harry and Ginny were finding it hard to contain their laughter.

“Professor,” Harry started, “I think we might have found a way of getting out of here. You must come with us!” he commanded.

Sybill looked still disorientated and her steps didn’t seem completely steady either. Ginny started marching back to the spot she first encountered upon entering the room. She sighted with relief when she found that the window was there still. Harry locked Trelawney’s arm into his and followed her.


Meanwhile, Ron had Apparated to Hogsmead taking Hagrid with him. Since the map showed no sign of any of them still, it would appear that Ginny was likely to be still in the village. They walked into The Three Broomsticks.

“Ah, Hagrid, young lad, good to see you,” greeted Alan Abbot not quite remembering Ron’s name. “The usual?”

“Thanks but not today,” Ron cut in. “We were wondering if my sister might be here.

“Ah, the young Weasley girl? Yes, she was here for a while. As a matter of fact, she was looking for you Hagrid. I don’t know, she finally went but she didn’t say where to,” the landlord explained.

“Oh, well, we better go an’ fetch her,” Hagrid concluded.

“I can’t think where else she could be,” Ron told Hagrid once outside the pub. “She must have found one of the secret entrances to Hogwarts. Now, I know the odd one but there are several she could have tried,” he reasoned. “Now, Hagrid, do you promise to keep a secret?”

“O’ course, Ron, anything!”

“Ok, Harry has a special map that gives the location of anyone in the castle, apart from the Room of Requirement.

Hagrid smiled, “Go fer it then.”

Again, none or the three people they were looking for showed up. Ron then concluded that Ginny must also have got into the Room of Requirement somehow. Hagrid had keys to the castle and, in his capacity as teacher, he could bring Ron with him. 

By the time they walked back to the school, Ginny and Harry, who had been practically dragging Trelawney along, arrived to the sitting room in the Hog’s Head. Aberforth had expected the girl to return and had waited for them. As much as he complained about business being terrible, on this occasion he was grateful for not having had custom since earlier in the day. He had bolted the front door, just in case anyone decided to come in for a late drink.

“Potter! Professor Trelawney! Merlin’s beard, boy, have you taken to dressing in drag?” 

Harry and Ginny almost rolled on the floor laughing.

“Oh, long story,” Harry said blushing once again. “By the way, thanks so much for helping us, Mr Dumbledore, I’ll explain it all to you in a moment. Now, would it be possible for you to give a bed to Professor Trelawney for the night? She’s a little ill, as you might have guessed.

Aberforth frowned and looked at the party.

“I can pay you for the favour,” Harry said tentatively as he searched into Molly’s robes pockets for some coins.

“Potter, that won’t be necessary. Alright, she can stay for the night on condition that you lot give me some indication as to what on Earth is going on,” Aberforth tried to bargain. 

Harry wasn’t happy about disclosing too much but he went as far as stating that he thought someone had sealed the room and for a reason. He continued to say that he believed Sybill might have been in danger, because of the rumours about the prophecy.

Aberforth snorted. “So, the prophecy, in your eyes, young man is real?”

“Who could say!” Harry replied. But the castle really isn’t safe, without… well… your brother, sir.”

“Whatever, Potter, now, you two are wasting time. Just get the hell out of here, will you? Before something bad happens. I’ll play host to Miss Trelawney until she sobers up and then I’ll contact you.”

Harry and Aberforth shook hands.

There was an uncomfortable silence but also an understanding. “Very well, Gin,” Harry prompted, “get to move!”

Ron and Hagrid, aware of Hermione’s tip regarding house-elves had gone straight into the kitchens. Surely enough, Dobby was hard at work there, despite the fact of the few wizards in residence at the castle.

Ron approached him first. “Dobby,” he said in a whisper, “I need you to do us a favour, for Harry, Harry Potter.”

“Anytime, Ron Weasley, sir” the elf replied.

The fact that the elf remembered his whole name was something that Ron found rather touching.

“Okay, you know the Room of Requirement, don’t you?”

The elf nodded.

“I need you to go in there and Apparate out with Harry and Sybill Trelawney to Grimmauld Place. If you can’t, come back here to the kitchens. If you are successful, come back after you have done it anyway. I need to get back there too and, as I’m a wizard, not an elf, I can't,” Ron instructed.

Hermione was now truly going spare. No sign from any of them! What was she to do! It was almost midnight! She just wanted to cry and pray but that was not the best answer. She had to act, but how? They had all gone in separate directions. What was going on? Had she unwittingly sent Ron and Hagrid straight to their downfall? Why wasn’t Malfoy back? Whilst she understood that Ron and Hagrid might still be trying to figure things out, Malfoy’s absence certainly indicated that something had gone very wrong for him. The guy was a jerk and she didn’t care about him much. Still, he had been willing to risk his life to help Harry, or had that just been an act? She was more inclined to believe the Malfoy boy than not and she thought that the whole situation was getting ridiculous. She could try to send him an owl but if he had been indeed captured, this could make matters worse. She had to come clean now. She had to tell the Order.

As she was thinking this, she heard some commotion from the floor below.  She was ready to seek help.

Meanwhile, Harry and Ginny Apparated back to Grimmauld Place.  They decided to Apparate to the boys' bedroom rather than to the main living areas, since Harry didn't think it was a good idea to turn up dressed in Molly's clothes.  Finally, he changed and they walked down to the living room.

“Harry, Ginny! You had us all so worried! cried Mrs Weasley hugging her daughter and then Harry.

“I know you’re young and you want to have a good time, but Harry, you could have sent an owl, at the very least, and Ginny, go to your room, young lady!” she continued.

“Mum, it’s nothing like you think.”

“Get out of my sight, you two, before I murder you both! The worry!” she exclaimed looking very emotional.

“Molly, I think there is something the Order has to know,” Harry said trying to sound calm. 

At that precised moment, Hermione came downstairs. Molly gave her an intense gaze, even if she had been very soft with the girl since her mother died.

“Mrs Weasley, I need to say something to the Order too. Let’s reconvene,” she said assertively.

Kingsley Shaklebolt, who had just finished eating, looked straight into Molly’s eyes and said: “Yes, Miss Granger, Potter, everyone, we need to reconvene!”

Molly was out of her mind by then but went into the kitchen and conjured some soft drinks. The Assembly met again.

As Harry was trying to explain part of what had happened, Ron and Hagrid, both looking fairly tired and dishevelled, arrived just outside the meeting room.

Draco Malfoy was now unable to move because of some very powerful binding charm that he didn’t know how to counteract.

He really couldn’t believe what had happened. He had successfully Apparated to the cellar room and since, assumedly undetected, gone into the kitchens in search for a loyal house elf. He found Maisy there. The kitchen was large and had a professional feeling about it. Although it only served a family of three for most of the time, it was able to cater for rather large parties. Draco approached Maisy slowly and, for the first time in his life, kindly. Maisy was only too happy to serve her new master, or so it would appear. However, as soon they reached the floor downstairs, a couple of goons restrained Draco by a mixture of Muggle and wizarding efforts.

He found himself now, in Dolores Umbridge office gagged and tied up and wanting to die!

Chapter 31: Grasping at Straws
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Draco felt as if he was about to be sick. The candy-floss pink draperies and the porcelain plates depicting absurdly cute kittens added to the eeriness of the place. Dolores Umbridge herself hadn’t shown up yet but in a way, this was further fuelling his sense of dread by exacerbating his anticipation.

His brain was now doing somersaults. He could not be sure if Potter had been right when he vehemently maintained that he knew the Ministry and the Dark Lord were now collaborating. Malfoy half-heartedly hoped that this was not the case, but in any event, the fact that he had been captured on Umbridge’s orders proved that she was foe, no friend. It looked as if his improvisation skills were going to have to be absolutely up to scratch if he were to have the slimmest chance of getting out of this alive, never mind unharmed. Time was ticking faster than his own heartbeat and now his priority was to anticipate the Minister’s motives and to figure out how to circumvent them.

He could hardly believe he had landed in such mess for the sake of helping Potter. In a feeble attempt to make sense of his very regrettable decision, he reasoned that he had needed the Order’s protection and that helping The Boy Who Lived had provided an opportunity to prove himself to them. He should have known better, though. It even crossed his mind that the Order itself could have set up the trap. Yet, if this was the case, Potter had pulled out an incredibly convincing stage performance. He doubted very much he was really that talented. The odds were that at that moment in time, The Chosen One and his friends were in fact his true allies. If this assumption was sound, giving them away wouldn’t be his best plan.

Harry wished he had had the opportunity to talk with Hermione before jumping in with both feet by asking to speak to the Order. He very much wondered what it was that she also had to say that was evidently important. Their eyes met. He hoped that they would not end up revealing too much due to this lack of communication. This was one of these instances when he regretted never having been able to master Legilimency.

Kingsley Shaklebolt’s voice sounded relaxed as he re-addressed the assembly but his body language told a different tale. Harry had been the first one to express the need to have an urgent discussion, so the Order leader made a gesture with his hand giving him the platform to do so.

Harry then started to relate what had happened since he left London for Hogwarts. In order for the whole story to make sense, he had no choice but mentioning that he needed to retrieve something from the castle. Incidentally, it was Lupin who asked him what that was. Harry decided to casually brush the question aside and continued to explain how he had managed to gain access to the school. He wasn’t particularly keen on having to remind his friends about Malfoy’s input into Dumbledore’s death but he knew that there was no other way.

“Look, as you all know, I was there with Dumbledore at the Astronomy Tower, when, well…” he gulped, “ when … he died. I happen to know how the Death Eaters got in. Draco Malfoy got a cabinet into the Room of Requirement which had a twin at “Borges & Burkes,” he started.

At the mention of Malfoy, Hermione twitched.

Harry noticed this and flinched but decided to continue. He went on to explain how the cabinets worked and how, to his surprise, he had found Professor Trelawney already inside of the room. He then added that neither of them could get out and that they appeared to have been trapped. He did reveal his suspicions in terms of a member of staff at Borgin & Burkes possibly having heard noises coming from the cellar. His guess was that someone could have put a stop to the cabinets’ connection but admitted that this did not clarify why the door wouldn’t budge.

Hermione now felt that it was her turn to intervene. The last thing she wanted was to get Hagrid into trouble but then again, it wasn’t right to keep quiet whilst the Order racked their brains for answers. “Harry, I know why that was,” she said sternly.

He looked at her incredulously. “You do?”

Everyone listened attentively.

“Well, Hagrid confided in me that he thinks Trelawney is in danger at the castle but that she won’t leave the school, so he did something to the room to keep her there until he got back to get her.” 

Several hushed voices could be heard at once.

“Okay, where is Hagrid? Kingsley asked.

I just saw him and Ron in the kitchen. We may as well ask him about it personally,” Harry suggested.

“I’ll go and fetch him,” volunteered Mrs Weasley.

“Also, Draco went to Malfoy Manor ages ago and hasn’t come back yet. That was what I wanted to talk to you all about. Something must have happened to him,” Hermione concluded sounding agitated.

“Malfoy’s gone where?” Moody asked in a panicked tone. Everyone knew that he didn’t trust the youngster and that this just came to confirm his suspicions.

Harry closed his eyes for a brief moment and opened them with a jerk. “What’s he gone there for?”
“Okay,” Hermione replied, “Ginny told us that she had sensed that you were stuck inside the castle. We figured that a house-elf could Apparate to and from Hogwarts. We tried using Kreacher but well, you made him promise not to talk to Malfoy. He wouldn’t speak to me either and then Draco suggested going to the manor and using one of his own. I warned him it could be dangerous, though.”

This left an opening for Moody to further voice his thoughts. His magical eye pierced Hermione’s and Harry’s simultaneously. “ Miss Granger, you took it upon yourself to just trust him, then? How do we know that this is not a trick of his?”

Hermione glanced at Harry as if searching for an answer.

“It was my idea.” Harry knew that this admission would not be well received but his voice didn’t falter. “I know that you all think I’m mad to trust him but c’mon, Voldemort killed his mother and, for what I’ve seen, he needs us more than we need him. Also, he has lived with Death Eaters all his life and he could have useful information. Merlin knows he spent enough time in the Room of Requirement last academic year. I just thought he seemed the best person for me to ask.”

There was a general outcry.

This time it was Bill who took the lead. “Harry, for crying out loud, you are trusting him with stuff you won’t even trust the Order with? Who do you think is more competent and more likely to have your best interest at heart?”

Harry now felt a little defeated and retorted defensively: “Okay, maybe I’ve made a mistake, although I doubt it. Now, where do we go from here? How long has he been gone?”

“Quite a few hours, Harry,” Hermione replied in a very quiet voice, looking down.

At that precise moment, Ron and Hagrid, accompanied by Molly, entered the drawing room.

Shakelbolt began to question Hagrid about the Trelawney business. Hagrid, once again, related that he had got a secret tip. They were all ears. Harry glanced at him surreptitiously remembering how he had been tricked in a pub on his first year at Hogwarts.

“Alright,” said Arthur in a firm manner, “what tip is this exactly? It could be important.”

Hagrid went red. “Erm… umn… an unsigned message tha’ came by owl ter me hut.”

“A secret message…” Harry repeated scowling. “Do you have it with you by any chance?”

Hagrid shook his head and look down seemingly embarrassed.

Various people asked where the Divination Professor was now.

“She was in a right state and I left her with Aberforth Dumbledore. I think she better come here,” Harry proposed. “Well, it’s hardly a secret that she made the prophecy and we must bear in mind that Snape knows about this.”

Hermione sighed at the mention of Snape. It had been him, of all people, who had advised Draco to use a house elf. She knew also that not many members would be particularly impressed with the fact that they had consulted him. Hermione thought she better tell Harry and Ron when they were on their own and try to put the case to them. She had deducted from her conversations with both Petunia and Malfoy that he wasn’t on the side of the Death Eaters. Also, the fact that he had been made aware that Harry was trapped and that he had come to no harm almost proved in her mind that she had been correct. She didn’t expect, however, that persuading Harry and the others would ever be easy.

Harry spoke again. “Okay, one thing at a time, let’s worry about this message once we have decided what to do about Malfoy. So, he’s not back. Could he have gone to Hogwarts, you reckon?”

“He shouldn’t have done. I told him to get back here first,” Hermione answered.

Harry gave a slight twitch and pursed his lips. “So, he has either done a runner or he’s been captured.”

Mad Eye made his feelings known in favour of the first theory. 

“But, Alastor, he’s got nowhere safe to go,” Harry argued.

Hermione contributed that he had known that it was urgent for him to get back with the elf.

“Harry, I’m still in awe that you decided to trust him,” Hestia Jones pointed out concerned.

“I must say, it occurred to me that he might have decided to hand me over to Voldemort to try to redeem himself but, then again, nobody came to attack us, which they would have had time to do and also, no; Voldemort pushed it too much by killing Narcissa.”

A few people gazed at him looking unsure.

Harry shook his head again, “Remember? I know how it feels; I’ve been there!”

Arthur now spoke, “Harry, aren’t you identifying yourself with him too much because of this? Yes, his mother got killed, so did your parents, but you are very different people.”

“Okay, what I’m saying is: what’s he got to gain by rejoining the Death Eaters? After all, he came here voluntarily. I saw what he was like all last year, terrified, ill looking… My instincts are telling me that something’s gone very wrong,” Harry concluded.

“Well, you two seem to have been sharing some secret business, have you not?” Molly Weasley said gazing intently at Harry, hoping to pull his tongue.

“Molly, sorry, but that business is very private to him and I can assure you it has no bearing on our activities or Voldemort’s,” Harry replied assertively.

“Is that about his mother ghost?” Ron whispered into Hermione’s ear in a tone loud enough for anyone to hear.

Hermione looked at him exasperated, as if about to hit him hard in the head. Harry blushed. Several Order members glanced at various others.

“How are we going to find him, though?” Hermione interjected, changing the subject. “I thought of sending him an owl, but then again, this could give away his position if he happens to be hiding,” she reasoned. “I suspect that Voldemort may have put someone up there in case he turns up, which is worrying to say the least.”

“Look,” said Harry now impatiently, “we better think of something. I hate having to tell you but he has in his possession two items that I don’t want in the wrong hands; the Invisibility Cloak and my phone. The first is something I need, the second, well, has stored in it the Durleys’ number, the Muggle bank’s… so, whether you like the guy or not, it’s now imperative that he comes back to us before too much information is given away.

They all agreed on this but had to admit not having any leads. Turning up at the manor didn’t seem a sensible thing to do, but what else could be done?

Kingsley argued that it was unlikely that, if he had been captured, they were keeping him there. Voldemort surely must have pretty secure Headquarters of his own, and if Umbridge was to blame and hadn’t handed him over to the Death Eaters, she would probably hold him at the Ministry for interrogation.

Harry now began pacing up and down the room. “Well? Are we just going to stay here debating and doing nothing?”

“What if the boy has set up a trap to lurk you to Malfoy Manor?” Mad Eye argued.

Shacklebolt now took command. “Harry, you stay here, just in case.”

Harry shook his head rather forcefully. “Is there any point at all in me being in the Order? Yeah, wrap me up in cotton wool! What kind of a life is this? I feel as if I’m in prison!

“Potter,” Kingsley said sternly, “compose yourself and think rationally. As I said, it is doubtful, if it’s true that he’s been captured, that anyone remains there in which case, just to double check, two or three of us will suffice. However, if it’s a trap, it will be you who they’re after. Why are you always so eager to play into their hands?”

“Haven’t you had enough excitement for one day, young man?” Molly went on.

Harry looked frustrated but didn’t reply. In the end it was agreed that Mad Eye, Shacklebolt and Tonks were to go to Malfoy Manor and report back as soon as possible.

The magical restraints placed upon Draco’s body seemed tighter and tighter as the minutes went by; minutes that felt like hours. Umbridge’s office felt very cold indeed and the absolute stillness was debilitating. Not even the painted cats were making a sound. His custodian looked as if he was staring into empty air. Malfoy’s mind continued to race. Before long, he heard footsteps, the noisiest of which seemed to come from a pair of heeled shoes. It was time to put on his poker-face mask.

Umbridge was the first one through the door. She was accompanied by Percy Weasley and by a couple of tall and muscular wizards who were in all probability part of her guard.

“Good evening, Mr Malfoy,” she saluted with a very false grin.

“Minister,” he replied in an almost military fashion.

She made one of her customary little coughing sounds and sat down behind her desk. She beckoned Percy to sit beside her. He promptly obeyed, parchment and quill at the ready.

“No need to be alarmed, dear. The Ministry just wanted to umm… clarify a few details about Dumbledore’s death, that’s all. This is just mere procedure, nothing at all to worry about… as long as you are willing to co-operate,” she added softly with an almost inaudible giggle.

Draco’s grey eyes locked into hers momentarily but his expression was subdued. He started to bite his lower lip slightly and was trying his utmost to prevent his hands from shaking.

His silence was making her feel uncomfortable. She began. “Well, Mr Malfoy, you were a key witness in the unfortunate events that unfolded at the Astronomy Tower. I can give you my word that your help with our investigation will be rewarded,” she tried to persuade him.

He had almost forgotten her excessively girlish voice, a voice that didn’t sit right with someone of her age and status.

“Well, you know I was always co-operative when you were Headmistress at Hogwarts. You can be sure of my loyalty, so, would it be possible for you to get me untied and to get your staff to give me back my wand?” he tentatively suggested.

“Well, well, one step at a time... You see, I may be Minister dear,” she pronounced the word Minister with obvious exultation, “but the way in which murder investigations are carried out was set up way before I got to where I am today.  You have to understand that you are a key witness. The wizarding community likes to see that I’m doing my job but you were always a bright lad and I’m sure you understand perfectly.”

“Okay, what exactly do you want me to tell you? I’m sure you know who killed Dumbledore. After all, that fool Potter shouted it to the whole world.”

Draco quickly remembered that Greyback and the Carrows had witnessed the scene. If she was in fact on the Death Eaters’s side, it was very likely that she had heard their account. He decided to go for the truth. He trusted Snape’s resourcefulness to keep himself out of harm’s way and he couldn’t see how lying about this could aid anyone.

“Yes, dear, we have heard those rumours, indeed,” she continued as she pretended to clear her throat yet again. “However, well… that boy is hardly a reliable source of information, is he? Such an attention seeking young man, such a shame,” she droned on, rolling her eyes. "Personally, I have always suspected that he got more than a scar the night his parents died; in fact, I’m pretty positive that his brain got addled up in the process. One can’t but pity him.”

Draco made a quiet sound to indicate that he was sort of in agreement but decided that the less he disclosed the better it would be. So far, the woman had spoken at length and conveyed nothing, but wasn’t that after all a politician’s skill?

“Now, just as a warm up and before we delve into the horrors of that night, where have you been since then? You seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. Your poor mother must have been worried sick about you up to the day she died.”

This was a low blow and she knew it. Draco now felt ashamed to have sided up with her in his fifth year for the childish sake of getting to Potter. The woman was sick! Externally, however, he remained impassive.

“Sorry, Mr Malfoy, I take that you were aware of this very sad news?” she said feigning consternation with very little talent.

She was beginning to close on him. This was most certainly a leading question. Depending on what story he was going to concoct regarding his recent whereabouts, he should or should not know about his mother’s passing. He had to react quickly. To his advantage, the Malfoy family had never been known for wearing their heart on their sleeve. He looked down and briefly closed his eyes in a calculated and seemingly well-rehearsed move. He simply responded:

“If you don’t awfully mind, Minister, I rather not talk about that.”

“Well, not that I am insensitive, of course, but sometimes one has to talk about painful subjects,” she stated in a singsong tone. “It is for your own good after all. Last time you were seen, you were with Snape, the alleged murderer, running away from the school grounds. This is your chance to clear your name, don’t you see?”

“The version you were given is correct.”

“And what would that version be, by the way?” She was now playing with the bulky rings on her oversized fingers in a manner that showed that she was rapidly losing patience. “Alright, I will refresh you memory, young fellow. My predecessor, Mr Scrimegeour prior to his resignation,” she began, chortling a little, “ well, he wrote on the file that yourself, dear, and the Potter boy were there when it all happened. I’m sure you will be able to explain why this was.”

He had good reason to fear that whether or not her ulterior motive was handing him over to the Dark Lord, Umbridge wasn’t going to be content with his very succinct answers. She had not given any indication in terms of her allegiance or otherwise to the Dark Lord’s, so revealing to her the task that was once assigned to him didn’t seem prudent. The problem was that he didn’t really know how long he could hold her off before she found some means of loosening his tongue. Where the hell were Potter and the Order? What about Granger though, she surely must have realised by now that something was very amiss. Of course, even if they decided to come to his rescue, they had no clues as to where he was. What could they really do, especially now without Dumbledore? It was ironic to think that the death of the very wizard whose life he had once been intent on taking was working against him.

“I didn’t kill the Headmaster. You already know that. I don’t quite understand why you are keeping me here, and tied up! I cannot tell you anything that you don’t already know,” he protested.

“I think you’ll find that you are rather mistaken. You have still not explained to me what you and Potter were doing at the scene of the murder, and what’s more why you ran away,” she continued, clasping her hands as if saying “I’m waiting.”

“I just happened to be there doing my homework. It can be a relaxing place,” he told her unconvincingly.

Dolores blinked in obvious disbelief and ordered casually: “Percival, would you please fetch us some Veritaserum. It seems that Mr Malfoy needs to refresh his memory.”

Percy Weasley nodded deferentially and left the room. Umbridge grimaced with obvious satisfaction.

Draco had expected something like that to happen but couldn’t fathom a way to get out of it. The Order had tried to use that very same potion when he first arrived to Grimmauld Place and, funnily enough, it had been Potter who had let him off the hook. This reminded him of something else which the Order had tried to make him do. He had to repress a grin.

In a matter of minutes, Percy was back holding a phial containing a clear liquid. Draco now spoke: “Well, there is a problem with this. I cannot answer your questions because I was forced to make an Unbreakable Vow. Obviously, you are aware that if I break it, I will die, which also means that I will no longer be able to help you with your investigation.”

The Minister hadn’t counted on that. She glanced at her Personal Assistant as if for enlightenment. He gazed back. His expression indicated that he was advising caution. She conceded to herself that, if the boy was telling the truth and he was forcefully made to disclose information covered by the Vow, he would no longer be of any use to her.

“Who made you make the Vow, and what exactly does it cover?” she asked angrily.

Draco shook his head and simpered. “I’m afraid, Minister, that information is also part of the Vow. The people who made me make it were sure to cover themselves in this way.”

Dolores couldn't contain a snarl and made a motion for one of her guards to come nearer. “Oh, just a preliminary measure, one that I should have taken a while back… Foster, could you please strip this young fellow of his clothing. Let’s see what clues we find.”

Out of his cloak pockets came out a peculiar looking small rectangular metallic object with numbers on it. Once Dolores had been able to ascertain that the item in question was not so cursed as to cause harm to the person holding it, she asked that it be passed onto her. To say that she looked puzzled was an understatement. Her next move was to ask Percy Weasley to take a look at it. Draco, on his part, had completely forgotten about Harry’s phone. If they did manage to work it out, it would give away the fact that him and Potter were in touch, that they were in fact allies.

He didn’t need to examine it for very long. “It’s a Muggle device, ma’am.”

“Well, what does it do? she eagerly queried. “Percival, your father tinkers enough with Muggle stuff for you to know, I am sure.”

Percy raised an eyebrow and look at the artefact in more detail. “It’s part of a communication system, I believe, Minister. Muggles do not use owls; they use feliphones. The Department of Muggle Liaison should be able to tell us more about it.” 

Umbridge hesitated. She was not entirely sure if this was the best course of action. There were many people still employed by the Ministry she didn’t trust at all but was keeping on staff because she rather have them where they could be watched. She decided to ask Malfoy about it first.

“Well, Mr Malfoy, it seems pretty obvious that you have been living in the Muggle world. I’m pretty sure that this isn’t part of any obscure vow you may have entered into, so I would strongly advise you to tell us what it is exactly and how it came to be in your possession.”

Draco sighed involuntarily. He was most certainly not prepared to disclose having lived with the Muggle priest or in the Muggle world but even less so to link this object to Potter. There was a chance that they would not figure out his workings well enough to discover the identity of its owner and, in the event that they did, he could always say that it was the Chosen One who made him enter into this potentially lethal contract.

“I’m not sure what it is. I found it on a Muggle street,” he volunteered.

Dolores smirked. “I’m sure you did.”

She motioned everyone in the room apart from Percy to leave and suggested to the latter that there wasn’t any need to take notes for the time being.

“I think I may have found a way, more effective this time, of getting to the bottom of things.”

Draco could feel a cold shiver running through his spine. Whatever she might have had in mind, it didn’t sound very pleasant. He had often resented the many opportunities Potter had been given to be branded a hero, what he thought had been greatly exaggerated adventures. He was now getting a taste of what it really was like being in imminent danger and was coming to accept that this was not indeed an enviable position.

Meanwhile, Harry, Ron and Hermione had gone upstairs to brief Ginny on the various developments. It had got really late and they were all frankly exhausted. Most of the adults remained scattered through the main living areas of Grimmauld Place waiting for the Malfoy Manor investigation party to return. Molly was so overwhelmed by it all that she hadn’t even bothered to check on the kids, having been contented with sending them to bed.

There seem to be little point at that stage on discussing in any great detail plans for Malfoy’s rescue. They were all far too tired and there was an absolute absence of leads. They agreed to do some serious brainstorming on the matter the following morning. Similarly, Hermione thought that it would be better if she put to them her theories concerning Snape at a time when they were all more alert.

Ginny, however, remembered how she had felt that Harry was experiencing a certain sense of elation prior to her finding the secret entry to the Room of Requirement. She asked him about that.

Harry smiled really widely. “Well, guys, I think I have found the next clue for our quest,” and he went on to tell them how he had seen himself holding a quill in the colours of Ravenclaw in the Mirror of Erised.

“Wow! His friends exclaimed all at once, cheering.

Harry then proceeded to explain that, unfortunately, although he had found the Half Blood Prince’s book easily enough, there appeared to be no clue whatsoever in it with regard to the Wolfsbane potion. Hermione promised to examine it from top to cover the following day just be certain.

“I found a cryptic message written on it, though,” Harry continued as he showed them the handwriting that seemed to match that of Snape’s and which he assured them it was not there when he had used the book at school.

“Two are dealt with, one the seeker was after, three had been replaced. The seeker holds the key to the error, in a clue from a long time ago, an error which may lead to success. In the far right corner, some answers might be found." 

“Oh, Harry, this is really obscure… “ commented Hermione looking somehow discomfited. “I think that it refers to the Horcruxes, though. It must do…” she muttered.

“Also, here,” Harry said pointing at the final phrase in the annotation they were discussing, “here it gives the clue about where in the Room I could find more information.”

“Is there any way of checking that this is Snape’s true handwriting that it is not a fake?” asked Ginny pursing her lips.

“Well, it really looks like his, I must say,” Hermione assented.

“We have seen it enough times, especially in red ink, when he marked our essays,” agreed Harry.

“There must be a spell that will tell us for sure,” contributed Ron.

“I’ll look into it tomorrow,” Hermione reassured them.

“Could he be trying to help us? I mean, you have been trying to defend him for some time?” Harry asked Hermione.

“I think so, Harry, but as we said let’s leave that for tomorrow. We’ll talk about it at length then, I promise,” she concluded unable to avoid a yawn.

“Percival, what is this?” asked Umbridge holding in her hands a silver coloured slippery and water-like piece which appeared to be made of the strangest of fabrics.

“An Invisibility Cloak. No doubt about it,” he replied acting smug and efficient.

“Oh, I heard those are very rare,” she mumbled in a low voice, her eyes ogling the thing in a covetous manner.

Draco’s heartbeat was now even further accelerated. Something else yet that connected him with Potter!

“My brothers sell products like that in their shop,” Percy said casually. “May I take it with me to examine? Of course no member of my family will be involved, rest assured.”

Dolores played with her podgy fingers for a moment, mulling it over. “Very well, Weasley, if you think that is best,” she conceded.  “And now young man, the truth!” she commanded Malfoy.

“I told you all I can’t without causing my own death!”

“We shall see about that. Inferno Sine Incendio!” 

As these words left the Minister’s wide mouth, every inch of flesh in Draco’s body begun to burn with an intensity he would not have believed possible beforehand. He felt as if about to suffocate, as if his heart would stop at once. That was torture beyond the realm of imagination.

“Well… shall we start all over again?” she asked him, her girlish tone more pronounced than ever. “And, do not worry, this will not leave any marks, will not burn your skin but the sensation is just the very same.”

Without further ado, she gave him another dose. Malfoy’s body stopped twitching altogether. He was now unconscious.

Percy Weasley intervened at that point.

“Minister, not that I would ever doubt your judgement but… I think you may have overdone the spell, not that I’m trying to criticise your methods…”

She frowned. “I do beg your pardon? We need to extract whatever information he may have and well, the boy is clearly not talking much.”

“Yes, but if we kill him we will not be able to hand him over to the Dark Lord. He won’t be pleased. Needless to say, neither of us would like to have to endure his wrath,” he reasoned.

“The Dark Lord can have him when I am done with him,” she said arrogantly.

“I couldn’t agree more, Minister, but if we go too far and he dies, for one, he won’t be able to tell us anything and what is more, if the Dark Lord kills him is up to his father to take the matter up with him. I know that Lucius Malfoy is currently in Azkaban, that his Master hasn’t bothered to release him, however, this could change at anytime, depending on the services that the Dark Lord may need of him. Let’s not tempt fate, shall we?”

Umbridge shrugged and replied, “Right, slow but painfully effective then.”

Chapter 32: The Faithful Departed
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“You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?” Albus Dumbledore (J K Rowling – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

Dolores Umbridge had been careful to keep the capture of the Malfoy boy secret from Ministry employees, with the exception of course of the people initially involved. Hence, she had decided to keep the prisoner in what she considered the most secure place in the whole of Headquarters: the Locked Room in the Department of Mysteries. One thing she was certain about was that he wouldn’t be escaping from there anytime soon. That chamber was sealed in such a way that it would be impossible for anyone without the right authority to gain access, even in the unlikely event that his whereabouts were discovered. Just like at Hogwarts, Apparition wasn’t possible either. This should give her and Weasley ample time to ascertain what clues the items found in Malfoy’s clothing held, also to figure out what to do with him from then on.

They had taken the extra precaution of sedating Draco, although the Minister herself had ensured - by her methods of interrogation - that he would be out for the count for quite some time. She had dismissed his custodians earlier that night, as she was pretty confident that their presence wasn’t necessary given the circumstances. 

Percy had offered to take the supposed Invisibility Cloak with him to privately carry out some checks. The communication Muggle device, although slightly bewildering at first, was in fact less complex that he had anticipated. It was a simple matter of flicking it open and pressing various keys. The one thing he could not fathom was why the diabolical-looking artefact played a tune whenever it came to life. Was that some form of coded message? He didn’t let that small detail rattle him and proceeded to press buttons and to take notes of any other options the object gave. Some of these options, ‘phonebook’ for instance, were rather obvious. He selected this and, to his delight, he came across not just numbers but the names to which they seemed to correspond. He silently cheered.

The first digits that appeared were positioned against the word ‘bank.’ Percy gathered that most Muggles used financial institutions, so this didn’t look, in principle, like something of huge value. It took him a few minutes to work out which button to press to get to the next item but managed it in the end. 

‘Dursleys: 08452 328915. That surname rang a bell but annoyingly he couldn’t quite place it … yet. 

‘Never mind, he thought, ‘it will come to me,’ and he continued to systematically hit the downward arrow key.

‘Hermione Home: 01732 453118; Hermione Mobile: 07766540833.

Could that be Hermione Granger? Harry Potter’s and his brother Ron’s friend? Percy sighed. That would have been too good to be true, there must had been lots of Hermiones about, although this was a pretty uncommon name as far as he was aware.

Dolores looked at him with avid eyes, expecting Percy to come up with some huge revelation. It was by then very late into the night, close to dawn in fact. He explained that there was no point in calling any of these numbers when people were supposed to be fast asleep. 

In the end, both Umbridge and his assistant went back to their respective homes, as it was established that there was nothing much they could do until the morning. Before they did so, Percy asked for her permission to borrow some books from the Muggle Liaison Department but didn’t elaborate. He was, at that stage, unwilling to reveal to his boss what he considered far-fetched theories. Yet, before he left the building, he took a detour to look into Harry’s file. Yes, his legal guardians had been some relatives whose surname was Dursley. Eureka! That could not just be a coincidence, not when reinforced by the entry: ‘Hermione.’ That information alone was sure to grant him yet another promotion!

Neither Harry nor Percy managed much sleep. They both had things on their minds.

Hermione hadn’t slept particularly soundly either and heard footsteps. She pretended to go to the bathroom in an attempt to ascertain who was up so early in the day. She saw light coming from the direction of the drawing room. She made her way towards it and stood outside, keeping very still. Cautiously, she opened the door just enough for her to figure out who the wanderer was. Harry! He looked deep in concentration. She cast the Muffiato charm and manually made the door swing open, closing it very swiftly in her wake.

“Harry,” she whispered. “You ought to be in bed. You’re burning the candle at both ends.”

“And you’re beginning to sound like Molly,” he replied with a grin. “Come here, I’ll show you something.” He beckoned Hermione to sit next to him and passed over to her the infamous Potions book. It was opened on the page where the new inscription had shown up. “But first, have you worked out the spell to authenticate the writing?” he asked in a low voice.

Hermione paused. “Give me a second, Harry, it’s at the tip of my tongue. That’s it!” she exclaimed placing her hand against the relevant piece of handwriting. “Exhibeo Scriptorem!”

The words Severus Snape appeared. They had been correct in guessing that the additional text wasn’t a fake.

“And you’re absolutely certain that this wasn’t here before?” Hermione double-checked.

“Completely. I combed this book from top to bottom last year, as you very well know.”

 “Harry, this has to be a clue about the Horcruxes. It can’t be anything else.”

“Looks that way, doesn’t it? So, Snape has left a message for me, you think?” Harry wondered aloud.

“Well, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while, about Snape…” she uttered timidly.

“I know your theories, Hermione, but he killed Dumbledore. Let’s weight this out. What exactly do we have to back up your idea that he’s still on our side?” he asked sceptically.

“Alright, you said that Dumbledore was pleading...” Hermione glanced at Harry watching out for his reaction.

He curled up his lips. “Umm… well, yes.”

“I also told you my impression of him when we went to rescue your aunt.” She paused; the memory of that night was indeed a very painful one. Nonetheless she composed herself and continued. “She thought the same as I did. When I met up with her she actually said that, at the time, he had told her ‘not to worry’. It seems obvious that he was putting on an act for the Death Eaters and also that he expected you to go back for the book sooner or later.”

“What if someone else found it instead?”

“Only you knew where you have put it, Harry.”

“But he didn’t know where that was,” he protested.

“Look, you’re not that hard to read. Where else would you hide something in desperation? Everyone knows about that room, Hagrid, Trelawney... It’s hardly a well-kept secret, plus he could have easily used Legilimency on you. In fact, he could have forced you to tell him the truth, to retrieve it, if he had wanted to. Maybe he allowed you to dispose of it on purpose to use it as a means of communication later on.”

“Could be,” Harry reluctantly conceded, “but why would he expect me to go back to get it after the school closed?”

“Because you had relied on that book all year long and he knew it. He expects you to hate him but probably also to trust his skill,” Hermione reasoned.

“He ought to have known me better than to expect me to have anything to do with the work of a murderer.”

“But he was right since you did go to fetch it.”

Harry let go off this for the time being, silently admitting defeat. He had for some time wanted to find out more about Hermione’s meeting with his aunt, to learn the true meaning behind Petunia’s words when she had told him that ‘she went out with Spape once or twice’ but had been scared of what he might discover. Lupin had admitted that Snape had been friends with his mother at Hogwarts and Draco had blurted out that he had been in love with her. Had there been more? Petunia could have dated him to get back at his mum. Petty, yet possible.

“Hey, wake up,” Hermione prompted.

“Sorry, you know, when you met up with my aunt, did you talk about Snape and her? About him and my mum?” He took his gaze down and rested his chin on his left palm.

“Harry, just a little. He lived near your grandparents.”

Harry widened his eyes. “Really?”

She nodded. “That’s what she told me after quite a bit of questioning. She said that they were both ‘odd’, your mum and him, well you know what she’s like, and that they were quite close.”

“What do you mean by ‘quiet close’?” he questioned. His body tensed.

“I’m pretty sure she meant just friends, they were kids, Harry.”

It was very hard for him to fathom how this could have been. Yet, even Remus had confirmed that. The image he once saw in the Pensive came back to haunt him. She had come to his defence when his dad was pranking him and all she got as a reward was being called a ‘Mudblood’. His own half-blood was now beginning to boil.

Then, suddenly, he thought he saw something. He instinctively placed his wand on top of the handwritten message.

“Hermione, look!” he exclaimed excitedly. “I’m sure there is another message underneath this one. I can sort of sense it.”

“Let me think.” She motioned for him to stop talking for a moment and picked up the book. She sounded unsure but nonetheless determined. “Revelo” she simply commanded.

Two locks of hair materialised; one blond, one red. Then, suddenly, the voice of Severus Snape filled the room. It emanated from the fireplace.

“This message is for Potter alone.”

“I’ll be in the main living-room,” Hermione said taking her leave.

“You?” Harry addressed him in an accusatory tone.

“Of course it is I. You summoned me, not the other way round. You came back for my book.” Snape pronounced the word ‘my’ slowly, in a calculated way. “I am not your enemy,” he added dispassionately.

“You murdered Dumbledore,” Harry spat back.

Severus’ image then, through the hearth, cast the Muffiato charm once more; whether to reinforce Hermione’s or to prevent her from becoming privy to this, Harry couldn’t tell. 

“That it’s between the Headmaster and myself alone. I will answer to the Supreme Being when my time comes, not to you, Potter.”

“Why did you do it?” Harry was now frantic.

“Are you deaf?”

Harry realised that he couldn’t make Snape disclose anything he didn’t wish to, so he moved onto the next question: “These locks of hair. What do they mean?” he demanded.

Severus chuckled. “Well, I’ll give you two guesses.”

“One of them is my mother’s, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?” He couldn’t help but caress the red one, even as he spoke. That was the closest he had ever been to something physically belonging to his mother in his living memory.

“Control that temper of yours. I will not tolerate your unruly behaviour,” the Potions Master told him condescendingly.

“Shut up! You’re a fugitive!” Harry bellowed.

“And so are you, Potter. I do read the ‘Prophet’ from time to time. You are wanted for fraud if nothing else.”

Harry laughed.

“This charade has gone on long enough. I won’t pretend to like you. I do not, but I am going to try to help you.”


Snape smirked. “My reasons are my own,” he stated succinctly.

“Professor Mystery!” Harry mocked rolling his eyes. “Does the other one belong to Narcissa Malfoy, by any chance?”

“Ten out of ten for deductive skills, Potter,” he replied with the same kind of cadence he had used when Harry had answered that ghosts were transparent back in his sixth year.

Harry then felt as if his chest was being compressed. So, it was true. He had loved them both.

“Were you and my mum lovers, ever?” He was now almost hyperventilating.

“No.” Severus answer was rotund, deep and sour.

Harry tried to compose himself but was finding it difficult. Somehow, he almost felt as if Snape was enjoying this; making him suffer and for what? For being the product of the union between his school enemy and the woman he had loved? If this was the case, why didn’t he hate Draco? After all, Narcissa had also married someone else, or had his infatuation with her come later?

“You’re right. This has gone on too long,” Harry now said urgently, “We believe that Malfoy has been captured. I mean, Draco Malfoy,” he clarified. Harry had now taken the unprecedented leap of trusting him. Something akin to intuition had led to that somewhat rushed decision.

Severus grinned. “Let’s stop playing cat and dog, shall we, Potter? You know I can read your mind. Cutting to the chase, I hate for a kid, and furthermore, for you to have been entrusted which such a mission, but a mission you have.”
"Any clues on the mission, as off the record?” Harry asked with a tinge of sarcasm.

“Clues, I have given you plenty. Also, the fact that you and Draco are now co-operating has given me more headaches than otherwise. My job was far simpler when you hated each other.”

Harry couldn’t help but smirk. It was all so absurd. “Well, if you’re serious and truthful about helping us, how about spelling it out in plain English? As a matter of sheer curiosity, do you care about Draco Malfoy at all?”

“I’m trying to keep you both alive. Likes and dislikes do not even come into it.”

“Glad to hear,” he replied scornfully. “Now, how do I rescue Draco?”

“You? The Saviour of Humankind!” Snape snorted.  “I gave you the locks for a reason. Keep your mother’s, I know you are sentimental. Use Narcissa’s.”

“How?” Harry almost howled.

“If you’re as receptive as they claim, she’ll come to you.”

“She was your sweetheart, not mine. I don’t understand. Why doesn’t she go to you instead, if she can help?” Harry looked subdued as he said that.

“Because you’re in a better position with the Order perhaps?”

That silenced Harry momentarily.

“I have a favour to ask of you.  For what Draco tells me, we have a common Muggle acquaintance…”

“Potter, it’s time. I must leave it now to this amazing brain of yours.”


“Harry Potter imploring,” Severus mocked. 

“Whatever,” Harry brushed off dismissively. “The priest. Talk to him. Tell him we’re sorting it all out.”

“He doesn’t trust me anymore. I’m a murderer, as you very eloquently put it.”

“He has time for people who repent, I’m sure.” Harry said tentatively. “He’s a nice guy.”

“And you have only met him once.” 

“Right, my instincts, Snape, have got me out of as much trouble as they have got you; more so, in fact.”

“Potter, by the way, there is an enchantment on our ‘private’ conversation. If you reveal any of it, I will know.”

“Is that a threat?”

“It is a fact. Of course since you’re absolutely unable to keep anything from Weasley, Granger and your girlfriend and, given that I came to you voluntarily being fully aware of that, I’ll make an exception, as Dumbledore did.”

Harry didn’t like the fact that Snape was now calling the shots, setting the terms. He liked even less the fact that he had mentioned Dumbledore’s name.

“How dare you mention!” he retorted scathingly.

“One day, you’ll find out the truth, no doubt, but not today.”

And with that he left and the fireplace became once again dusty and uninteresting.

Percy was at work even earlier than usual. He had done a little homework and had checked the bank’s number against the Muggle telephone directory he had borrowed from the Muggle Liaison Department. It turned out to be an off-shore investment one, given the advertisement placed on ‘yellow pages’; the kind of institution that targeted wealthy Muggles. 

Also, Harry’s phone had been found on Malfoy. That could only mean one thing: they had joined forces. He was well aware of Narcissa’s death at the hands of the Dark Lord, albeit not of the exact circumstances. That explained matters to a certain extent. Had Draco joined the Order? That was something unconceivable yet not impossible.   Everyone had to try to keep themselves alive, but for Potter to have lent it to him? Were they now that close? Was Potter foolish enough to trust just like that? Had Draco stolen it from him? Too many questions. At that moment in time, he chose to concentrate on his achievements instead.

Once he explained his theory, Umbridge’s mood improved. She was definitely impressed with Percy’s findings.

“Do you mean Potter, ‘the Harry Potter’?

“I do indeed, Minister. That number belongs to his relatives. As you know, he has stayed at my family’s place in the past. Also, I have found details of where he’s keeping the money he fraudulently took from Gringotts.”

“Well, Percival, that’s certainly progress.” She could hardly conceal her exhilaration.

“We’ll have to question Malfoy further, of course,” Percy contributed, but I would advise to let him recover just a little, or else he’ll be dead and useless to us, as I already pointed out last night.”

“Very well, now, could you please pass me that Muggle concoction?” she demanded rather impatiently.

“It won’t work inside this building,” Percy advised. “You could go outside into the Muggle streets, I guess.”

She went on her heel and impatiently dialled the number Percy had pointed to her.

A metallic sounding voice answered.

“Your call is important to us, you are holding a queue, we will be with you as soon as an operator becomes available.”

What the hell was that!

The Minister’s assistant explained that their best bet was to wait until at least 9.00 am when the bank should open. Still, the same thing followed. If Dolores had had very little time for Muggles to begin with, she had even less now. Finally, after half an hour or so, which could have been better invested in Ministry affairs, she got through.

“Hello, my name is Marilyn, how can I help you?”

Umbridge had researched her back-story relatively well with Weasley’s help. 

She started off in an imperious way. “I’m enquiring after the account of a Harry James Potter,” she began.

“I’m sorry, madam, we’re not at liberty to discuss accounts with anyone other than the customer.”

That was that then. Still not deterred, being so close to getting back what she believed were her dues, she commanded that Percy tried next pretending to be Harry.

He did as he was told but he was asked for a password. He improvised; couldn’t remember it. “Surely, he wasn’t going to loose its assets because of it,” he rebuked. 

“No, of course not Mr Potter,” the lady on the other end comfortingly stated, “just come in person with identification, that should be fine, a passport, driving licence you know.”

It was obvious that they were hitting a brick wall on that one. Something was mentioned about the ‘Data Protection Act.'

After the twenty minutes or so that it took for a human being to answer, she stated in no unclear terms that she was the Ministry of Magic herself and that she demanded…

The line went dead.

She tried to gather her thoughts but came to the conclusion that Potter had stolen a very large fortune. She couldn’t let that go. In a huff, she phoned the office of the Muggle Prime Minister himself.   When she finally got through to him, after being placed on hold several times, he appeared rather troubled about internal problems and was not co-operative in the least. 

“Ms Umbridge. If it had been a question of mass murders, huge disasters etc, at your service as always, but what you are troubling me with seems to be a very trivial internal financial matter; an inheritance situation in fact. We deal with these issues ourselves without the aid of the wizarding community, I suggest you do likewise,” he told her curtly. 

She was not amused. 

Meanwhile, Hermione received an alarming phonecall from Harry’s bank. Harry remembered having put her down as next of kin. The caller explained that they had had two enquiries coming from the phone number Harry had given as his own. They were concerned that it had been stolen and that someone was trying to access his account details. She passed them over to him.

“Yes, it’s me, yes I’m Mr Potter.” He gave them the telephone-banking password.

“A man and a woman tried, you said?”

“The woman tried first. We have blocked your accounts until such time as you present yourself here with identification.”

That was not ‘per se’ a problem. He had never been abroad with the Dursleys and had not owned a passport until recently. However, he did have a Muggle birth certificate, which Dumbledore had arranged for him when he placed him at Privet Drive. He had subsequently obtained a passport once he realised it may come in handy sooner or later. He was now very happy to have done so.

“Hermione, get your father. This is important! Get him to speed up the purchase of the apartment. By the way, Umbridge has Draco, I’m sure of it!” He had spoken very quickly, to the point that he had been almost unintelligible. He would deal with Snape and the stuff about his mother and Narcissa later. Brainstorming would have to wait but he ensured that he caught up with Mr Wesley before he left for work. Harry told him what he knew minus the conversation with Snape, as per the condition enforced upon him.

He was going to have to go into the City anyway, to ensure that his funds remained available. Malfoy’s capture was still very much the priority though. After explaining to his friends his encounter with their former teacher, they all decided that the communication was meant to come through a dream or something tantamount, from Narcissa… He would now have to wait and trust that his instincts would lead him in the right direction.

“You try it, Gin, you’re the psychic!” he said feeling overwhelmed.  

Draco’s eyelids felt heavy as he opened them slowly. He found it hard to focus and had never felt that weak. Everything appeared enveloped in a very thick whitish fog. He had no idea how long it would be before someone came to check on him. When someone did, he though, perhaps his best bet would be to pretend to be unconscious, yet he could not live on thin air forever. However, at that moment in time, even in the event that some form of nourishment had been forthcoming, he was far too exhausted to eat or even to think about it.

Meanwhile, Harry had gone into the City to sort out with the bank the issue of his account’s security. Immediately afterwards, he telephoned Mr Granger indicating that it was now imperative that the purchase of his apartment proceeded forthwith. Will Granger agreed to meet him in a public house located within the precinct of Liverpool Street station. The place was heaving with commuters and travellers alike. It was far too noisy and busy for anyone to pay attention to their conversation. They both ordered a coffee. Mr Granger made a call to his lawyer to explain the situation. After all, the property was sold with vacant possession. There was no real reason why completion couldn’t take place there and then, other than the fact that some routine checks on the property such as local authority searches were still being carried out. Harry decided that he would bear any risks for the sake of swiftness. His account had almost been compromised and waiting any longer didn’t seem the right way forward. Before the day was over all contracts were signed and Harry had been given the keys. This would have been a most exciting development, had it not been for the fact that he couldn’t get Malfoy’s capture off his mind. Likewise, his friends felt very much that way also; even Ron, who had never made a secret of how much he still disliked the Slytherin boy.

Once in bed, Harry had trouble falling asleep. Snape’s message have been nothing but cryptic. What part exactly was he to play with regard to Narcissa? His mind kept going round in circles like a hamster on a wheel. He was absolutely certain that Umbridge had Draco but where? The first idea to come to him was the Department of Mysteries; that was it! That brought him back to the recurrent dreams he experienced prior to the death of his godfather, to the ever-moving doors that emerged from the rotating chamber… There had been one in particular that wouldn’t budge with anything, including the penknife that Sirius had given him. His attempt on that door had in fact melted away its blade. It made sense to Harry that Dolores could be keeping his prisoner there. Had Dumbledore not mentioned that that place contained love? He picked up Narcissa’s lock of hair in a conscious effort to invoke her. Nothing happened. He tried time and time again. After all, Mafoy was in trouble because for once in his life he had come to his aid. It was all his fault once again!

‘Narcissa Malfoy, for crying out loud, if you’re somewhere around, your son needs you!’ he muttered practically out loud. 

He was so drained with it all that within a few minutes, he entered into a deep dream.

He woke up in the middle of the night covered in sweat. He couldn’t recall the details but he knew that something had happened. The lock of blond hair he had been clutching in his hand when he fell asleep was gone. He just had to pray that whatever exchange he might have had with Narcissa’s spirit hadn’t led her on a wild-goose chase. He had some vague incline that Father Sean had also featured in his oneiric travels, in which capacity he wasn’t sure.

The Minister of Magic had intended to interrogate Malfoy first thing in the morning. She wasn’t pleased to find, to her complete astonishment, that he had escaped.



Chapter 33: 'Mirage'
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A couple of hours or so before dawn, Draco found himself in a sparingly lit place which he figured was a Muggle street.

His thoughts were very much a disarray of faint and unlikely recent memories. He had vague albeit painful recollections of having suffered severe burns despite the fact that his skin showed no evidence of injury. He was, however, certain that he had seen his mother once again; perhaps in a dream, perhaps not. ‘But what was he doing in an unknown location in the middle of the night? Was he not supposed to be at the Order’s Headquarters?’ he wondered, trying to piece the puzzle together.

Deep in these thoughts he wandered the streets without a set direction. After taking a few turns he finally saw a plaque in a street corner which indicated he was in ‘Fulham Road.’ An underground sign, not far away, confirmed to him that he was in fact in London. At least that was something! Both the people who had given him refuge happened to live in the capital. Since he had no idea how he had landed there in the first place, that discovery was comforting. ‘But what was he to do next?’

He could always go back to Grimmauld Place but he knew full well that he had been only tolerated there under Potter’s auspices. At that moment in time, he had absolutely no clue as to whether Harry had managed to get away from Hogwarts safe and sound or not, assuming of course that Ginny’s theories had been correct and he had been trapped in the castle in the first place. If Potter had come to harm, this could have important repercussions as far as he was concerned. It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that the Order, who had shown him enough hostility as it were, wouldn’t take kindly to his failure to help the person they saw as his benefactor. This train of thought brought back to his consciousness the fact that he had been captured at Malfoy Manor whilst trying to enlist the aid of a house elf. Beyond that point, everything was a blur.

Memory gaps aside, his other possibility was the priest. He could perhaps Apparate, if only he had the strength.. Walk? He knew Father Sean’s address but he was going to need a map and the shops weren’t yet open. Besides, the forty days of sanctuary were over. He wouldn’t be safe there.

He continued to ramble. The road he was roaming was packed with what looked like upmarket retail outlets and restaurants; anything from antiques to specialised furnishings, all of which were closed. He had no idea what time it was but the lack of traffic indicated that the city wasn’t going to come alive anytime soon. He suddenly felt very hungry and rather cold, even though it was summer. He carried on walking for lack of a better plan. When he had almost resigned himself to having to wait until God knew when for the London tube to open, he spotted several people coming in and out of some sort of eatery. The awning at the front indicated that this was a 24 hour brasserie by the name of ‘Vingt Quatre.’ He remembered Harry having given him some Muggle money when Hermione’s father had dropped him at Bow Road. Without hesitation, he proceeded inside and grabbed a table. A few minutes later, a waitress appeared and presented him with a breakfast menu. He started perusing it at once: full English, healthy breakfast, American special, deluxe muesli, eggs Benedictine, various omelettes and finally scrambled eggs with Beluga caviar. The later was the option that appealed to him the most. He hadn’t had anything he considered remotely special for months!

“Would you like to order a drink while you wait?” the server enquired.

“Umm… what are the options?”

“We are fully licensed, so you do have a choice of soft beverages, which include a large selection of speciality teas and coffees or you may wish to opt for a glass of wine or a quarter bottle of champagne, say. The scrambled eggs and Beluga dish comes with a special offer if you chose the champagne,” she added tentatively.

Draco thought it was about time he got an opportunity to indulge himself a little and decided on the champagne. It was only when the time came for him to settle the bill that he finally remembered having been captured by Umbridge and his lackeys and, to his horror, realised that she had confiscated the Muggle money found in his jacket. He had to think and fast. The only excuse that he could come up with is to make a fuss and complain that his wallet had been stolen.

To this end, he rose from his seat and started pulling stuff out of his pockets in an exaggerated fashion. He then announced to the waitress that he had been robbed in the restaurant and demanded that something be done about it.

“I’m terribly sorry, sir, but I doubt very much that anyone would have been bold enough to do so in front of numerous customers and members of staff…”

“Well, quite simply, this will just not do!” he vehemently protested.

“Okay, I’ll get the manager and see what can be done. Do you have any alternative means of payment, a credit card perhaps?”

“Everything was in my wallet, as I said,” he told her, angrily enunciating every syllable.

The manager tried to pacify him best he could but firmly maintained that they could not accept liability for lost or stolen property, even in the event that the incident had happened in their premises.

Draco pretended to reluctantly accept this. The manager offered to let him use the telephone in order for him to get a friend or relative to bail him out so to speak. But who should he ring? Of course it had to be a Muggle or someone who at least owned a phone. He knew Hermione had one also but he had never memorised the number as this had been stored in Harry’s mobile, which he now recalled had subsequently been confiscated by the Ministry. He ought to cut his losses and contact Father Sean but this was something he could hardly dare do. His immediate predicament was his inability to pay the £75 he had incurred by way of consuming a single breakfast meal. He very much doubted that down to earth Father McKenna would approve of his excesses. Still, he had little choice.

Hermione was abruptly awoken by a frantic knock on her bedroom door.

“It’s me, Harry. I need your help,” he started.

She opened the door in her pyjamas, dark circles under her eyes.

“Harry!” she exclaimed. Her expression denoted both tiredness and annoyance. “What’s up now?”

“Look… can I come in?”

“Alright, but also bear in mind the commotion you caused the last time that you came to our bedroom.” The ‘our’ referred to the fact that Hermione shared a room with Ginny whilst at Grimmauld Place.

Harry remembered the incident in question well. Lupin had found him outside the girls’ room and it all culminated with Molly accusing him of sleeping with Ginny. ‘If only!’ he thought for a split second. However, on this occasion, he didn’t have the time to dwell or reminisce.

“Hermione, listen, this is hard to explain, I don’t have the time right now but I need your phone, p l e a s e.”

“My phone? Harry, what on earth is the matter?” she enquired, comprehension eluding her.

“I’ve just had a dream, well sort of… a vision perhaps… It’s to do with Malfoy. Don’t ask me why exactly because I’m not sure myself, but I just have this very strong feeling that I need to contact Father Sean,” he attempted to explain.

“Father Sean? To begin with I don’t have his number,” she contended.

“But you have internet connection. I’ll just have to ‘google’his church. I’m sure his private landline will be listed.”

“For one thing, my mobile doesn’t work here, as you very well know.”

“I’ll go outside,” he counter-argued. It was clear that he was not about to give up.

At that point Ginny lazily opened her eyes.


“Gin, it’s okay, I’ll explain later. I just need Hermione’s phone.”

Ginny gave him a look as startled as Hermione’s had been.

“Harry, it’s the middle of the night. It would be really rude to wake him up just because of some stupid dream,” Hermione tried to dissuade him.

“Trust me, I’m pretty sure this is important. I told you about the locks of hair from Snape, didn’t I? Well, Narcissa’s been trying to tell me something all night. Okay, maybe I sort of invoked her but anyhow, that’s what she wants me to do, contact the priest!”

“So she’s a real ghost then? Ginny asked, her eyes full of curiosity.

“I haven’t the time to enter into a debate about ghosts but yes, I did kind of see her, although I don’t actually think that she’s like Nick and the others. My guess is that she’s stuck in between planes or something, but that’s far too philosophical to worry about right now. So, Hermione, please, the phone!” he commanded.

Hermione raised her eyebrows and gave Ginny a knowing look but caved in.

Harry hurried down the stairs and into the breezy air of the very early morning. He looked at his watch. It was just gone half past four. Hermione was right when it came to social etiquette but that was not his top priority right then. Malfoy had been captured. He himself had urged Snape to get in touch with Father Sean. There had to have been something in what Narcissa had attempted to tell him.

The internet connection was slow when compared with a normal computer but he got there in the end. Without further ado, he dialled.

Father McKenna answered in a tone that was cordial on the surface but could be interpreted as edgy, although not ‘per se’ sleepy.

“Father, it’s me, Harry…”

“Are you okay? I’ve been worried about you…” He paused for a brief second. Well, your girlfriend mentioned to Draco that you might have run into problems.”

“I’m absolutely fine, please don’t worry about me. You don’t happen have heard from Draco at all, have you? I mean, in the last couple of days or so…” Harry enquired without going into ‘ins’ and ‘outs.’

“Funnily enough, I just got a call from him. He says he’s in Fulham Road. I was going to go to pick him up,”

“Oh, great, thanks!” Harry stopped in his tracks for a minute. He didn’t know if Father McKenna knew that Draco had disappeared and he didn’t want to cause any further disquiet, although he realised that the fact that he was calling in the middle of the night implied that something was amiss. “Actually,” he continued, “I was going to be in the vicinity today anyhow. I can go and meet him myself instead, if you wish, saves you the trip. By the way, where is he exactly?”

Father Sean’reply was that he had a telephone number. It was a landline as far as Harry could make out.

So, what was going on exactly? Had Draco been captured and released, had he escaped or had he been playing silly games all along?

In any event he dialled the number.

“Vingt Quatre Brasserie, good morning,” a female voice saluted.

“Good morning. Do you have a Mr Malfoy with you by any chance? My name is Harry, Harry Potter.”

“Just one second.”

The phone went silent and Harry realised that he had been put on hold.

“Harry?” Draco answered surprised, “can you come to meet me?”

“What are you doing in a restaurant in the middle of the night? What the hell is going on?”

“Long story. Look, I’ll tell you all about it. My wallet has been stolen,” Draco said loudly enough to ensure that the staff heard him.

“Your wallet? What the…?”

“As I said, I’ll tell you all about it.” His tone sounded irritated.

“All right, on my way, Malfoy, but this story better be good!” Harry sharply warned him. “And credible!” he added as an afterthought. “Now, what’s the actual address?”

Harry sighed and prepared himself to Apparate.

‘Trust Draco to find himself in what he realised now it was a rather upmarket café before dawn’, Harry thought. So, had Narcissa’s ghost taken the trouble to wake him up so that he could come and pay her spoilt little brat’s bill?’ He hoped for Draco’s sake that there was more to it than that, because if that were not the case he didn’t know for how long he would be able to keep his temper in check.

Harry strolled into the restaurant and saw Malfoy waving at him with a casual smile as he walked towards the counter.

“Oh, thanks so much, mate. Sorry about this.”

He appeared more interested in catching the attention of the lady at the till than Harry’s. He now addressed her: “My friend here has agreed to settle my account on this occasion,” he volunteered. “I still think that you ought to keep a better eye on people who are robbing your customers, though,” he added, continuing with the tirade.

Harry, without much of an option, put his credit card forward.

“Would you like a receipt, sir?”

“Okay, thanks.”

The attendant promptly provided him with the printout. Harry looked at it almost distractedly.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “There is an error here. I think you have pressed one zero too many. Easy mistake to make, I’m sure.”

The young lady adjusted her glasses and took a look. “Mistake, sir? Where?”

Harry’s finger pointed towards the figure.

“Umm… £75 plus service charge, I don’t see…” She offered him a breakfast menu so that he could check for himself.

Harry’s rage was now rising to breaking point. Still, he didn’t want to make a spectacle of himself. He forced a fake smile and beckoned Draco to follow him.

Ginny had gone back to sleep immediately after Harry’s speedy visit, but that didn’t last long. Shortly afterwards, she woke up a little agitated. Her mind was tired and the thoughts in her subconscious convoluted; Malfoy’s suspected capture, Narcissa’s ghost, Harry’s new apartment, the missing cloak, Lily’s wand, Percy…

Something had to be done. Time was running out.

Once on the street, Harry cast the ‘Muffliato’ charm. His eyes were now incandescent.

“Malfoy, do you want me to punch you hard or would you rather I hex you to oblibion?”

Harry’s gaze was penetrating, murderous.

“Harry,” Draco protested almost timidly.

“Don’t you Harry me!”

“I was tortured because I tried to save your neck, you know!” Malfoy spat out. There was real intensity both in his voice and body language.

“Please expand on that one because from where I stand it looks as if you decided to take a look at London la-nuit, spend the money I gave you for emergencies and go on an extravagant binge you knew you couldn’t pay for, worrying us all silly to boot!”

“It was nothing like that!” Draco yelled.

“Okay, I’m listening,” Harry replied twiddling his thumbs in a comedic acting manner.

Draco was now truly hyperventilating. He related what he remembered about Malfoy Manor and the Ministry.

“I’m going to need proof of that, as you can well imagine. Either I get into your mind, by force if need be, or Veritaserum. Your call, Malfoy.”

“You just have to be so dramatic all the time, don’t you? I put my neck on the line to try to get you out of Hogwarts, and this is how you repay the favour?”

“Okay, how did you escape though?” Harry challenged him.

“I’m not actually sure. My memory is somewhat patchy,” Draco answered sincerely.

“Convenient! And now Umbridge has my phone and the cloak. This is just brilliant!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for any of it to happen. She tortured me!” he yelled.

“And what did you tell her?”

“I didn’t tell her anything! I just passed out as it happened.” In reality, Draco couldn’t be sure that this had been the case, but since he truly had no recollection of spilling the beans, he thought he better leave it as that.

In conscience, Harry considered reiterating to Draco that he was left with no choice but entering his mind. However, it was imperative that he found out what Umbridge had become privy to. As he was aware of his own limitations when it came to Legilimency, he realised that giving Malfoy prior warning could put him on guard and potentially allow him to block certain information, so he just went ahead with it.

The fact that Draco was completely worn out played to Harry’s advantage. He managed to get into his thoughts and, indeed, his recollection of events prior to his surfacing in central London were not awfully coherent. Either that or the Ministry had tampered with his mind.

“You’ve done it, again, haven’t you? Did nobody ever teach you manners, Potter?” Draco cried out.

“Very well. It’s possible that you are telling me the truth but there are a lot of missing links here. Missing links that neither of us can afford if we are to stay alive. Believe me when I say that I’m not completely unsympathetic. Still, I don’t get what possessed you to order a breakfast like that. Do you just have no sense of perspective at all?”

“I never expected someone with your sort of wealth to be worried about a silly bill. Besides, I thought I had money on me at the time,” Malfoy argued.

“So you’re charging me expenses for your troubles? I see... In that case, I may start considering charging you rent!”

They both quieted down for a few moments. The pressing question now was what to do next. They ought Father Sean some kind of explanation, if nothing else to put his mind at rest.

“Are you fit to Apparate, you think?” Harry asked.

Draco shrugged unsure.

“Okay, we’ll do it together, just in case,” Harry offered extending his hand

Within seconds they found themselves outside Father McKenna’s apartment. As they approached the front door, it began to dawn on Harry that perhaps they should have gone to Grimmauld Place first to reassure the Order that everything was well, relatively speaking, that Malfoy hadn’t run away and that he was, for now, safe. Still, he had told his friends that Draco had finally surfaced in the middle of London and he was sure that Hermione would inform the others.

Harry rang the bell. Father Sean had been expecting them although no formal arrangements had been made to that effect. He saluted the boys cordially but something in his expression denoted concern and a hint of irritation. He invited them in and offered to make some tea.

Whilst he was in the kitchen, Harry’s and Draco’s eyes met almost furtively as if telepathically asking one another how much was prudent to reveal. Harry broke the silence by whispering to Malfoy that if there were going to try to engage the priest’s help it was only fair that they fill him in fully, minus perhaps the small matter of the price of Draco’s breakfast. Harry gave his companion a look fierce enough to make him understand that he would not tolerate this sort of antic ever again.

“Very well, what’s been happening with you two?” Father Sean asked once everyone was settled around the small table in the living room. “You had me worried sick, the pair of you.”

Harry looked downwards, somehow ashamed to make eye contact. After all, the whole chain of events had started with his stupid idea of retrieving Snape’s book. He had put himself at risk and he had failed to obtain what he had been looking for. Granted, he had now a good idea as to what one of the Horcruxes might be, but of course this information was not for public consumption or discussion. Since he had been the one who had caused the events to be set in motion, he was the one to reply first.

“Well, I went back to our old school to retrieve a book I thought I needed in order to help a friend.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes.

Harry didn’t go into the concrete details but succinctly explained that he had been trapped in a supposedly secret room and that he had eventually found a way out.

Draco, eager to portray himself in the best possible light, pointed out that they had decided that a house elf could help and had volunteered, placing himself in grave danger, to go and fetch one from his family home.

Father Sean was all ears. It was still hard for him to take in that such an alien world existed. At the mention of house elves, he unwittingly frowned but refrained from slowing the conversation down by enquiring about these creatures for the time being.

Draco proceeded with his account of events, essentially narrating his capture, how he had been tortured and eventually been mysteriously freed, probably by some kind of magical intervention.

Father Sean didn’t know whether he was more angry than appalled or the other way round. The notion of torture, in particular when the victim had barely left childhood was something that made his blood boil.

“Do you see why it’s so important that we get all the help we can get?” Harry pleaded. “This is a truly horrific regime. They will stop at nothing!”

The priest closed his eyes momentarily and then uttered humbly: “I just don’t know, how, I mean what … I, of all people, can do.”

Harry replied by explaining, best he knew how, his experience with what he thought had been Draco’s mother’s ghost.

Father Sean shook his head and closed his eyes for a brief moment, deep in thought. After only a few seconds, he promised them to give the matter a thought.

Now, a more pressing issue, especially in light of Harry’s imminent move from Headquarters, was to establish where was best for Draco to stay from then on.

The first rays of sunlight made their way through a pair of spartan looking brown curtains. They hanged from the window of a small living area in an apartment above a music shop in a street located between Charing Cross and Knockturn Alley. Nothing there was grand, or cozy, or cheerful even; merely functional. The place exuded a certain air of stillness about it. Only the numerous pieces of parchment that reigned atop the office desk were at all ruffled. It was almost as if nobody had inhabited the rest of the flat for a very long time.

Its only resident woke up to the sound of a loud knock on the main wooden door. The young man briskly proceeded to cover his pyjamas with a dressing gown and, without hesitation, headed for his wand. He had, of course ensured that his place of abode was sufficiently magically protected, but nobody could ever be careful enough.

“Who is it?” he demanded.

“Your mother, you silly boy,” she sniffled.

Percy froze momentarily. His hopes of buying a little thinking time by asking her to tap her wand against the door knob went out in smoke. She did as he requested and simply passed the test. Asking for further proof would have been indeed the only sensible route for him to take. Still, his thoughts were spinning with surprise and uncertainty.

The Dark Lord had commanded a while back that he contacted her and mended bridges. Although he was by no means a procrastinator, he never managed to pluck sufficient courage to put the plan into action. What was he afraid of exactly? Betraying his family? The family he had cut all ties with so long back?

That morning, of all days, after the fiasco with the Malfoy boy’s miraculous escape from the Ministry, the opportunity had come knocking at this door, quite literally. He had no option but to let her in and see what that was all about. It certainly crossed his mind that she might very well have been there attempting to obtain information for the Order or even Potter himself. He would just have to play his cards with care.

At the yells of “Percy, please, don’t do this to your mother?” and more door thumping, he finally, slowly and with meticulous caution, opened the door.
The plump ginger haired witch glanced at the whole place very quickly as if trying to take in her surroundings in just one single glimpse.

Without uttering any words, Percy beckoned her to sit down. Instead of taking notice, she charged forward towards him and forced an unrequited embrace on him which he merely made an attempt at politely tolerating.

“I can’t be long, mother,” he warned her impatiently, “it’s almost time for me to go to work.”

As anyone would have expected from Molly given the circumstances, she started to sob and to tell him that all she really wanted was for them all to be a family again and kept asking what had they actually done to deserve such treatment from him.

“Mother, what treatment? I’ve been busy at the Ministry, that’s all. In times like these, one must put the wizarding community’s interests above one’s own. There is no problem as far as I’m concerned. In fact how is everybody?” he asked trying to sound affable.

She told him the sad news about Fleur and her unborn child.

He had heard about that from other sources, of course. His only reaction was to gulp, whether involuntarily or not.

“How about everyone else?” he pressed on.

“Fine, we are all fine, well healthwise that is. For the rest, well in danger as much as anyone. That’s what it’s important that we make amends, you see, before it’s too late!”

“You’ll be safe as long as you disassociate yourselves from that Harry Potter. He’s a fraudster you know. Is he still seeing Ginny?”

There was no hesitation in her response but she sounded angry. “No, of course not. In fact, it was him who finished with her at the end of last term, well after Dumbledore… As far as we are aware he’s gone off on some quest or other all by himself. So much for us having been like a family to him all these years!” she pretended to protest.

“So, you are telling me the truth? He’s on the run by himself? How about Ron and Hermione? I must say this sounds a little hard to believe,” he argued.

“To be honest, I think that kid is blinded by notions of revenge. I thought I knew him but now, I don’t know,” she lamented, close to tears again, “I doubt he ever cared for anyone in view of him having abandoned us and suddenly like that.”

“Well, good riddance! You’re much safer without him. I take the Order is still meeting though?”

“Well, if any of them are, none of our family. We have had enough loses for one year to fight our own war. That’s the Ministry’s job, is it not?”

“You couldn’t be more right, mother. Now, I really need to go, if you don’t mind.”

This time, there were no good-byes, no cuddles and no tears. For a few moments, there was only complete darkness and when this subsided, both Molly Weasley and Harry Potter’s cloak had gone.